Emergency workers save Wockhardt fill-finish plant—and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses inside—from rising floodwaters

Limited supplies, spotty logistics and now a deluge. After contending with plenty of other problems, the  U.K.’s coronavirus vaccine rollout faced yet another threat Wednesday night when a Wockhardt plant faced rising water.

Emergency teams worked through the night as floodwaters from Storm Christoph surrounded buildings at Wockhardt’s manufacturing facility in Wrexham, North Wales, under contract to help produce AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, The Irish News reports.

Wockhardt, an India-based drugmaker with footprints in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland and France, agreed in August to carry out fill-finish work on millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses for exclusive use in the U.K. Central to that deal is AstraZeneca’s shot—now approved in the U.K.—which Wockhardt is filling and finishing at its Wrexham site.

Wockhardt’s Wrexham storage facility faced a particular risk of flooding, putting finished vaccine supplies for Wales and the U.K. as a whole in jeopardy. Emergency services quickly mobilized, establishing resources like gullies to protect the warehouse, Mark Pritchard, leader of Wrexham County Borough, said.

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In the end, all "necessary precautions were taken, meaning no disruption to manufacturing or inlet of water into buildings” occurred, a Wockhardt spokesperson told The Irish News. "The site is now secure and free from any further flood damage and operating as normal."

AstraZeneca’s vaccine was cleared for emergency use in the U.K. at the tail end of 2020, joining Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA shot, which Britain OK’d in early December. The British Big Pharma aims to supply “millions” of doses in 2021’s first quarter as part of a larger deal to provide the U.K. with up to 100 million shots.

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Meanwhile, as Britain grapples with repeat lockdowns and a fast-spreading variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the country is making good on plans to vaccinate 15 million of its most vulnerable citizens by mid-February, The Washington Post reported.

More than 4 million people from that group, or about 8% of the U.K.’s adult population, have received a first shot. Among those are nearly half of the 300,000 nursing home residents who can’t travel to get a vaccine; mobile vaccination teams using AstraZeneca’s shot, which British doctors tout as easier to store and prepare than Pfizer’s vaccine, have proven central to those efforts, the Post said.