As Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna and now AstraZeneca rack up emergency authorizations for their COVID-19 vaccines, the world is racing to get shots shipped out and into patients’ arms. A slew of injection device deals—inked early during the pandemic’s spread—are obviously key to that effort.
Becton Dickinson, for one, last month surpassed 1 billion pandemic injection device orders globally. Now, as more than 300 million devices arrive in North America, Europe and the Middle East—with the rest slated for delivery by the end of the year—BD is leveraging some pandemic know-how gained with the 2009 swine flu, Elizabeth Woody, SVP of public affairs, said in an interview.
Back then, the H1N1 vaccine itself ginned up federal funding, but little money or time initially went into preparing the final product, Woody said. BD signed on with the HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to produce injectors and help with planning for future pandemics.
This time around, BD's kept needle and syringe lines running 24/7 since early in the pandemic. By April, BD was ramping up production, mainly for flu vaccine devices, because it knew demand for those would skyrocket, Woody said.
BD scored its first deal for COVID-19 vaccine devices with the U.K., which ordered just under 100 million of them, Woody said. Canada ordered some 75 million needles and syringes, while the U.S. signed up for roughly 285 million initially.
The company recently stumped up $1.2 billion to expand its pre-filled syringe capacity, sketching plans for a new plant in Europe, plus upgrades to six of the company’s existing sites in the U.S., Mexico, Europe and Japan. Those moves are expected to boost capacity by more than 50%, a spokesperson said.
The company also teamed up with BARDA on a $70 million project to expand operations and dial up capacity for traditional needle and syringe devices at its Nebraska facilities. That upgrade, set to wrap in summer 2021, will provide the feds with priority access to “hundreds of millions” of injectors for COVID-19 vaccination efforts, plus supplies for future pandemics, BD said in a release.
Now, BD is helping with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in a variety of other ways, too—such as teaching healthcare workers at vaccination sites proper injection techniques or helping manage supply at those same centers.
COVID-19 will likely change the way governments work with suppliers ahead of future emergencies, Woody figures.
“I think those sorts of pandemic planning conversations have been going on for a long time, but there were a lot of people who didn’t believe we’d ever actually find ourselves in a full-fledged pandemic,” she said. “Now that we have, I do think we’re going to see changes in behavior."
Governments will preposition “more robust stockpiles,” she figures. “You don’t need the strain of the virus to have the needles and syringes available to administer the vaccine."