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Vaccine CDMOs are helping pharmaceutical companies to roll out their inoculation doses on a vast scale. However, this is resulting in ecological and sustainability considerations that must be addressed. If left unmitigated, these considerations will cause problems for humanity and our planet in the future.

But this is not a hopeless situation. Read on to learn more about how contract pharmaceutical manufacturers and other industry stakeholders can manage these issues, achieving long-term viability for vaccines.

Integrated Processes

Vaccine CDMOs are certainly providing a huge benefit to the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and the global inoculation market as a whole. However, great care must be taken to ensure that the market does not become fragmented. More players entering the market translates to increased complexity, and this in turn can lead to inefficiency and wastage. Both of these elements harm the long-term viability and sustainability of vaccine production.

Integration is critical here. Contract pharmaceutical manufacturers need to work to eliminate the weak points or missing links between their own operations and those of their partners. It is these weak points that can be particularly vulnerable to inefficiency.

Let’s take fill/finish processes as an example. Ahead of the vaccine fill/finish process, the manufacturer delivers the inoculation batch to the CDMO, who will then add the inoculation material to vials, seal these vials, and deliver them to the distribution hub. The point of arrival at the fill/finish facility, and then the handover to the distribution hub, are both potential points of weakness in the overall system. With integrated processes, this weakness is eliminated, and automated functions can help to make sure that no vaccine material is lost or compromised during the handover.

Comprehensive Ownership of Recycling

In the early phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, a sense of desperation gripped the world. Communities all over the planet needed vaccines in order to bring the ravages of the pandemic under control. As these vaccines began to emerge, the mood shifted from desperation to urgency, and scientists, governments and centers of learning came together to assist with the mass rollout of the inoculation doses.

Against such a frantic and accelerated backdrop, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the other issues surrounding the campaign for mass vaccination. One of the most crucial issues relates to the production and management of vaccine equipment and storage media — such as the syringes used in the administration of the vaccine, as well as the vials and containers used to store and transport these doses.

Vials containing synthetic preservatives such as thimerosal or other restricted toxic materials will need to be disposed of as hazardous waste. However, the waste burden can be alleviated by identifying safe materials, like glass and some plastics, that can be effectively recycled and ready for re-use. Identifying these materials, separating them from non-recyclable materials, and then completing the recycling process is a laborious task. All stakeholders in the vaccine manufacture and supply chain need to be prepared to take collective ownership of this problem.

Shared Targets for Existing Producers and Vaccine CDMOs

Recycling materials is not the only environmental issue facing the vaccine industry. There are other issues to be taken into account too, such as the energy efficiency of the manufacturing process. Cold chain production and other key aspects of vaccine manufacture are highly energy-intensive, and this needs to be carefully managed if the industry is to achieve ongoing sustainability.

This necessitates strict energy efficiency targets that are shared by all stakeholders throughout the industry. Everyone, from long-established vaccine producers to contract pharmaceutical manufacturers, need to agree on meaningful changes in energy usage and sources.

It is impossible to produce vaccines on such a vast scale without using a large amount of energy, but this does not mean that manufacturers cannot take steps to reduce this rate of consumption. In order for this to be effective, however, all stakeholders need to be working towards the same ends. If these endeavors are supported by pivots toward renewable energy sources — such as power derived from wind farms or geothermal facilities — the ecological implications of vaccine manufacturing can be brought under control.

Unified Regulation and International Standardization

Vaccine CDMOs and other stakeholders in this field certainly need to take responsibility for their own actions and adopt sustainable energy management and appropriate attitudes to recycling and material usage. However, this needs to be backed up by international standardization of regulation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been largely unprecedented, particularly in terms of scale. Never have so many vaccines been needed by so many communities across the world, simultaneously. International cooperation has also played an important role as the vaccine rollout became a global project.

Such uncharted ground requires a re-thinking of the status quo and a re-writing of the rulebook. By introducing standardized regulations across the world, the vaccine production process can be made even more streamlined and efficient. At the same time, the environmental sustainability of production is enhanced as manufacturers from countries around the world find themselves on the same page.

An Ongoing Process of Refinement

International Covid-19 vaccine rollout was never going to be easy, and teams from across the globe have stepped up to the task admirably. As we continue to refine the vaccines we produce, we also need to refine the methods we use to produce these vaccines. If protecting public health is the priority, protecting the health of the planet must follow very closely behind — both of these considerations need to be top of mind for vaccine CDMOs and manufacturers.

After two very dark years, the future looks to be a bright one. Indicators suggest that vaccines are indeed effective in combatting the virus and that humanity is capable of producing inoculation batches on such an enormous scale. Over the coming phase of the rollout, we need to make sure that our efforts remain sustainable and ecologically viable in the long term so that we are prepared for anything that may come.