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Opinion | What Happens When the Vaccine Factory of the World Can’t Deliver?

Doing this is not as straightforward as it may seem. It requires understanding the type of equipment available at a manufacturing site, adapting it to the steps required to produce a specific vaccine and calibrating it for dosing and expected yield. Some of that information might be commercially sensitive, and vaccine manufacturers may be reluctant to share it publicly.

This obstacle can be overcome, however. Safeguards can be put in place to protect proprietary information, for example by sharing only aggregate data about manufacturing capacity, without revealing the specific configuration of the equipment or sources of supplies.

Second, production sites must be multiplied and diversified.

As the current moment illustrates, the world is vulnerable for relying so much on vaccines manufactured in India because India itself may have a great need for the vaccines it produces. To minimize the risk that domestic demand will scuttle exports and global distribution, vaccine production hubs should be set up in countries with small populations.

Prospective hub countries will also need to be well-connected to ensure both the arrival of raw materials and the speedy export of vaccines. They should have reliable infrastructure and a competent work force skilled in manufacturing biologics (complex proteins made from living cells). Based on these criteria, Singapore, Luxembourg, Belgium, Panama, Senegal and Rwanda are candidates worth exploring.

Building up vaccine-manufacturing capacity in new locations, and creating a more decentralized and more transparent network worldwide, will be expensive, of course. And that, in turn, is likely to raise the price of vaccines.

But the cost of developing resilience is a small burden to bear compared to the losses that India and other countries short of vaccines are suffering today.

Prashant Yadav is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an affiliate professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD.

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