What Is Causing EU’s Vaccine Supply Shortage
The EU recently threatened to impose export controls on Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in Europe. This move came after AstraZeneca announced a significant reduction in the number of dozes it could deliver by March. As a result, a political crisis followed, with debates to block the export of vaccines to the North. In case the bloc decides to trigger the emergency provision, the new regulation would also require that pharmaceutical manufacturers report the destination and quantity of exports, enabling states to block vaccine flows.
While the EU reversed its decision to impose controls, the question that begs to be answered is why vaccine shortages occur given that Member States paid millions to boost production? The complex nature of supply chains is part of the answer. The shortage of workers, however, is a major obstacle to adding new lines and capacity.
Why Deliberating Controls
The EU explained that the measures would help ensure timely delivery and access to vaccines for all Member States. Controls were to be implemented in response to AstraZeneca skimping on deliveries and allegedly exporting doses to Great Britain. The European Commission also discussed the option to enforce article 16 of the Brexit’s Northern Ireland protocol, with the goal of preventing the shipping of vaccine doses through Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.
Reasons for Vaccine Shortfalls
AstraZeneca explained vaccine shortages with a production shortfall in its factory in Belgium. While this is a likely reason for delivery delays, there is more, from the need for specialized transportation to the complex nature of vaccine supply and the number of parties involved. The supply chain involves manufacturers such as AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer, logistics companies shipping doses to docks, hauliers transporting vaccines between states, and local distributors delivering doses to the state authorities.
Another reason for delivery delays is the shortage of workers that can support global supply chains. At the most basic level, supply chains span activities such as storage and distribution, transportation, and production. In times of a global pandemic of unprecedented proportions, the availability of labor for activities requiring human involvement has been significantly reduced. The reasons are many, from physical and social distancing to morbidity, fear of contagion, and illness.
Pharmaceutical companies are racing to fill in open positions as to accelerate production and availability. They are hiring hundreds of supply-chain management directors, quality assurance analysts, warehouse associates, and other professionals. Analysts point to the fact that 10 of the largest manufacturers that signed Covid-19 outsourcing contracts have over 5,000 job openings. Manufacturers producing vaccine doses for AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer are also struggling to find staff and admit to being in unprecedented territory. One company is even offering attractive sign-on bonuses to night-shift staff. The problem is that many of the positions not only require a biotechnology degree but extensive experience in pharmaceutical manufacturing. A company contracted by Johnson & Johnson, Emergent BioSolutions is a point in question. In January alone, the producer had over 180 job vacancies, including positions such as bioanalytics scientists, engineers, and warehouse associates.