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Millions of extra Pfizer vaccines to be made in Flanders

In 2022, Pfizer is aiming to produce 4 billion doses of its vaccine. That’s 1 billion more than this year. To achieve that goal, the American pharmaceutical company is looking to its cutting-edge site in Puurs (Flanders), where more than 100 million doses are created each month.

Millions of extra Pfizer vaccines to be made in Flanders

World’s largest production site

Puurs is Pfizer’s largest production site worldwide. The pharma giant selected the Flanders-based site as one of its main hubs because it specializes in filling injectable medicines in ampules or bottles. Every year, the site produces more than 400 million doses of injectable vaccines and medicines, including painkillers, eye drops, and pneumococcal vaccines, and delivers them to more than 165 countries. The production of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine – more than 100 million vaccines per month – came on top of that.

“More than 100 million COVID-19 vaccines leave our site in Puurs, Flanders, each month.”
Luc Van Steenwinkel, managing director of the Pfizer site in Puurs

A complex, global chain

The Pfizer team does not make the active ingredients of the COVID vaccine in Puurs. To get the raw materials, a chain has been set up that supplies components from other Pfizer sites – the group has more than 40 of them worldwide – and from external companies. For reference: one dose requires 280 components from 86 suppliers in 19 countries.

Lipids, for example, a crucial raw material for the mRNA vaccine, are made by the chemical company Croda International in Yorkshire, England. These minuscule 'fat globules' wrap the RNA, the unstable genetic material from a piece of the coronavirus that forms the basis of the vaccine.

In Flanders, the mRNA material, supplied from US Pfizer sites in Chesterfield and Andover, and from BioNTech facilities, is wrapped with those lipids. The final vaccines are filled into glass vials. Until they go out the door, the vials are kept packaged in special freezers. From start to finish, more than 40 quality control steps are carried out.

Hub for (corona) vaccine production

In the years to come, the Puurs site will remain one of the hubs for COVID vaccine production. “In the meantime, we are already shaping our mRNA platform so that we can also produce flu vaccines here, for example,” explains Luc Van Steenwinkel, the managing director of the fast-growing Pfizer site in Puurs. “Using the mRNA platforms for the COVID vaccines, a flu vaccine can be made in a few weeks, which means that it can be done more quickly than with classic flu vaccines.”

“In the Pfizer group, we are one of the main sites that develops and launches new products. That expertise brings growth. In ten years, the number of employees has nearly tripled from 1,200 in 2011 to 3,500 today. COVID vaccine production put turbo speed on that growth,” Luc Van Steenwinkel concludes.

A look behind the scenes at Pfizer

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Reported by
De Tijd newspaper
25 November 2021

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