Coronavirus vaccine distribution is taking longer than expected, but the medical and plastics industries both are putting in overtime to get the shots into arms.
The pressure is on manufacturers of syringes, safety seals for vaccine doses and the vaccine production and delivery pipeline.
"One of the challenges is how fast [processors] can transfer what was production overseas to local production in the U.S.," Peter Schmitt, managing director and founder of consulting firm Montesino, said in a phone interview.
"It's not clear to me how tight that timeline is, although we're all hopeful that they've been very successful at it," Schmitt said. "The speed of that transfer is something … that's a concern and it would obviously stress out the supply chain.
"If two years ago you were buying most of your syringes and injectables from Asia … how fast could you get that transferred?" he said. "How much did people buy up before the U.S. government got around to buying it?
"I'm not aware of the answer, but obviously that would be a problem," Schmitt added. "If they bought up the capacity, we're going to be in a line or outbidding each other, either of which is not a pleasant situation."
Wilmington, Del.-based Montesino serves the health care packaging sector.
As of December, Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based medical device maker Becton, Dickinson & Co. received global orders for more than 1 billion injection devices related to COVID-19, company officials said. That includes orders from the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and nongovernmental organizations around the world.
"We are actively producing and shipping devices to fulfill these orders," officials said. "This is no small task — to produce a billion devices in the next 12 months equates to nearly 2,000 devices every minute on top of BD's normal volumes to fully support routine health care needs."
BD makes injection devices in the U.S. at plants in Canaan, Conn.; Columbus, Neb.; and Holdrege, Neb. A company spokeswoman said polypropylene and polyethylene are commonly used resin grades in the industry.
BD is the world's largest manufacturer of needles and syringes, making billions each year for applications ranging from insulin injection to vaccines.
In addition to supporting immediate efforts for COVID-19 vaccinations, BD is partnering with the U.S. government on a $70 million capital project to expand its operations in Nebraska. The new capacity is expected to be online in mid-2021. Once completed, the federal government will have priority access to hundreds of millions of injection devices to support vaccination efforts for COVID-19 and future pandemics.
BD is also investing approximately $1.2 billion over a four-year period to expand and upgrade manufacturing capacity and technology for pre-fillable syringes and advanced drug delivery systems to allow for continued growth of new injectable drugs and vaccines. The new production also will provide surge capacity for increased pre-fillable syringe demand during times of pandemic response.