Sinovac aims to pump out 2B COVID-19 vaccine doses a year, courtesy of 3rd production line

As COVID-19 vaccines rack up authorizations and roll out across the globe, the manufacturing push has taken center stage. Now, one of the key players supplying shots to China and other countries is touting a major production boost. 

China's Sinovac Biotech has built capacity to crank out 2 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac per year, thanks to a third production line that's now operational and completing commercial runs, the company said Thursday.

Sinovac says it has delivered some 200 million doses of its vaccine to more than 20 countries. The company estimates more than 100 million doses have been administered in vaccination campaigns around the world. The shot boasts an emergency authorization or conditional marketing approval in more than 30 countries, including Turkey, Mexico and Indonesia, Sinovac says. China approved the vaccine for use in the general public on February 6, Reuters reported

The company says it's made sure not to sacrifice quality for speed in manufacturing. The new production line was inspected and cleared by China's National Medical Products Administration (NMPA), Sinovac added.

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While such assurances are typically par for the course in the pharma manufacturing industry, information on Sinovac's inactivated shot hasn't always been easy to parse. 

Before completing phase 3 trials, authorities in China rolled out the vaccine under a secretive emergency use program. Meanwhile, late-stage data readouts proved a source of confusion earlier this year, when Brazilian researchers first said the vaccine was 78% effective, then backpedaled the figure to 50.4%. They blamed the gap on the omission of “very mild” infections in the first data set, but the episode fueled criticism of the trial organization and escalated concerns about the shot's efficacy.

Adding to the confusion, Turkey, which has authorized the shot, reported interim phase 3 data showing CoronaVac was 91.25% in its local trial. 

Meanwhile, Sinovac has been beefing up capacity since last year. In December, the company bagged a $515 million investment from Sino Biopharmaceutical, which the company used to advance development and manufacturing for CoronaVac.

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At the time, Sinovac said it was only able to make 300 million doses per year. It hoped to complete a new production facility by the end of 2020 that would lift capacity to 600 million doses. By February, the company said it had capacity for 1 billion doses, The New York Times reported. Now, in just a month's time, the company has doubled that number.

The Chinese vaccine maker isn't alone in its all-out effort to boost capacity. Pfizer and BioNTech, for instance, aim to produce 2.5 billion doses of their shot this year, up from a prior estimate of 1.3 billion.