Pfizer sticks to U.S., European vaccine production until 'pandemic supply phase' ends

Pfizer is sticking with the U.S. and Europe in producing its COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty—at least until the "pandemic supply phase" is over, the company said Thursday.

Contrary to media reports, the drugmaker isn't in talks with the Indian government to produce its vaccine there, a spokesman said via email.

"At this time we are not in discussions for any additional local manufacturing for this vaccine," the spokesman said. "Once the pandemic supply phase is over and we enter a phase of regular supplies, Pfizer will certainly evaluate all additional opportunities available."

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Given Pfizer's rapid manufacturing timelines, not to mention the complexity of the vaccine's mRNA production process, the company "has created two dedicated supply lines with established vaccine capabilities—one each in U.S. and Europe—to exclusively manufacture this vaccine for use across the world," he said, adding, "This will continue to be the company’s strategy for the time being."

The latest back-and-forth on vaccine production in India comes after a local official in January told Reuters that both Pfizer and Moderna had spoken with the Indian government about producing their mRNA-based vaccines in-country.

While Pfizer was the first company to submit a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization in India, it pulled its application last month after the country's drug regulator rejected its bid to skip a small local safety trial. Pfizer has proposed to export doses to the country from its manufacturing operations in Europe and the U.S. 

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Pfizer hasn't revealed when it might re-apply for an Indian emergency nod. In the meantime, the company is committed "to working towards equitable and affordable access for our COVID-19 vaccine for people around the world including in India, and we welcome opportunities to collaborate with the government to fight COVID-19," the Pfizer spokesman said.

India at the start of the year granted an emergency nod to vaccines from local drugmaker Bharat Biotech and AstraZeneca, whose shot is being produced on license by Serum Institute of India under the name Covishield.  The country kicked off its vaccination push on January 16 and aims to inoculate 250 million people in priority access groups by the end of July, the BBC reported Thursday. The country has administered more than 20 million doses so far, multiple sources report

Meanwhile, Serum Institute of India has also been tapped by Novavax to help turn out 1.1 billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine candidate for COVAX, a global initiative to ensure equitable vaccine distribution.