The Task Force for Industrial Scale-up of COVID-19 vaccines, set up by Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs under the political leadership of Commissioner Thierry Breton, has facilitated the ramp-up of production capacity for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics in the EU since its establishment in early 2021.
The task force explained
In February 2021, the Commission announced the creation of the task force in its communication on the HERA Incubator: Anticipating together the threat of COVID-19 variants.
The main activities of the Task Force include:
* identifying and helping to remove vaccine production bottlenecks in the EU
* mapping EU vaccine production capacities throughout the supply chain
* facilitating partnerships through matchmaking events for vaccine and therapeutics production
* ensuring sufficient long-term manufacturing capacity in Europe
* supporting global vaccine access and vaccine sharing efforts, as well as the development of local manufacturing capacity
The Task Force contributed to the rapid increase in Europe’s industrial capacity to produce vaccines.
EU production capacity in a nutshell
The monthly production capacity in the EU was significantly ramped up, from 20 million vaccine doses at the beginning of 2021 to a capacity and actual production of around 300 million vaccine doses per month by the second half of 2021.
By mid-July 2021, the EU had produced over 1 billion doses of vaccines, with 500 million vaccines delivered to EU countries, enough to vaccinate 70% of the EU adult population.
In a year, around 3 billion doses of vaccines had been produced in the EU. In addition, the EU exported about two-thirds of the vaccines produced to 167 countries, becoming the world region with the largest scale of exported vaccines.
Identifying and addressing bottlenecks and supply chain issues
The Task Force worked closely with industry to identify and help to address around 150 bottlenecks in terms of production capacity and supply chain issues, thereby avoiding significant delays or disruptions in vaccine production. From February to June 2021, key bottlenecks ranged from single-use items (such as bioreactor bags or vials) to lipids for mRNA vaccines and low dead space syringes.
The Task Force also engaged with manufacturers to support the launch or expansion of new production sites, and maintained a close dialogue to monitor production capacities.
The Task Force assessed vaccine manufacturers’ supply chains and ability to deliver on commitments ahead of the signature of an Advanced Purchase Agreement (APA), and regularly visited production facilities contracted by vaccine manufacturers under APAs to swiftly address any bottlenecks in production capacities.
A regular dialogue with EU national authorities was also initiated and is ongoing to coordinate efforts in upscaling vaccine production capacities and to exchange information on national level developments. The Task Force also facilitated industrial reviews between APA manufacturers and the EU countries where their facilities are located.
As of March 2021, the Task Force opened a regular dialogue with its U.S. counterparts in the White House COVID-19 response team. This was formalised in September 2021 through the creation of the EU-U.S. joint COVID-19 Manufacturing and Supply Chain Taskforce. This joint Taskforce aims to ensure strong and resilient industrial capacity and smooth functioning of supply chains across the Atlantic, to meet the global demand for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.
European production capacity mapping
In 2021, the Task Force surveyed vaccine production capacity in the EU, throughout the supply chain. The results of the survey, as well as more detailed information gained through regular contacts with APA manufacturers, other industry representatives and EU countries, contributed to a detailed mapping of the potential EU vaccine production capacities.
Facilitating matchmaking and industrial partnerships
The Task Force also promoted new industrial partnerships through matchmaking events, bringing together over 700 participants across the COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics supply chains.
The first EU matchmaking event was organised on 29 and 31 March 2021 and focused on expanding vaccine production capacity and tackling supply chain bottlenecks. A second matchmaking event, organised on 12 and 13 July 2021, centred on the development and production of COVID-19 therapeutics. Another matchmaking event held on 29 and 30 November broadened the focus to include treatment of COVID-19 symptoms, production of single-use devices such as syringes, and the required ingredients for medicinal products.
Building Europe’s future vaccine production capacities
The Task Force also contributes to broader efforts in ensuring the EU’s industrial preparedness for future health emergencies.
Lessons learnt from the experience of the Task Force were translated into a strong industrial dimension of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), including the setting up of the EU-FAB’s ever-warm network of production capacities which shall ensure sufficient EU manufacturing capacity for vaccines in the future.
The Task Force collaborates closely with HERA to address supply chain and production issues and deliver on HERA’s strong industrial dimension.
Increasing global production capacity for vaccines
Contributing to global access to COVID-19 vaccines by increasing production in Europe and in the rest of the world has been one of the EU's top priorities from the onset.
The Task Force works with other Commission services, including the Directorate-General for International Partnerships (INTPA), the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), and the European External Action Service (EEAS).
The Task Force is actively engaged in the Team Europe initiative on manufacturing and access to medicines, vaccines and health technologies (MAV+) in Africa. During the AU-EU Summit in February 2022, the EU confirmed its support for Africa’s ambition to become more autonomous in the production of medicines, diagnostics, therapeutics and health products. The organisation of an EU-Africa marketplace and matchmaking event on pharma and healthcare, from 18 May to 28 June 2022, was part of this effort.
Efforts are also coordinated with international partners, notably the US, in the context of the EU-U.S. COVID-19 Manufacturing and Supply Chain Taskforce. This includes, for example, exchanges on the activities undertaken with African or Latin American partners and joint exchanges with international organisations like UNICEF/COVAX/GAVI/CEPI and individual vaccine producers.