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COVID digest: BioNTech could make 3 billion doses in 2022

March 10, 2021

The firm has already begun testing a potential third dose against variants. Meanwhile, some Sputnik V doses will be made in Italy. Keep up to date with DW.

A Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Beirut, Lebanon
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been one of the most popular vaccines in the worldImage: Hussein Malla/AP/picture alliance

BioNTech could have the capacity to develop 3 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine next year, Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said in an interview published on Tuesday.

Sahin told Bloomberg the firm could increase manufacturing capacity depending on demand and other factors, including whether an additional boost is required.

BioNTech and Pfizer began trialing a potential third dose of their vaccine last month to combat variants that current vaccines might not be able to prevent as well.

BioNTech CEO and founder Ugur Sahin
BioNTech CEO and founder Ugur Sahin said the doses could come if the demand was thereImage: Ralph Orlowski/REUTERS

"We now understand the evolution of the virus can result in new variants that come with new biological and medical features," said Sahin.

Pfizer said in January that it plans to make at least 2 billion doses of its vaccine by the end of the year.

DW has an overview of other major COVID developments around the world.


European Council President Charles Michel rejected claims of vaccine nationalism against the EU.

The European bloc has come under intense criticism for a vaccine rollout that is much slower than former member UK, or the US, and is providing fewer vaccines to less well off countries when compared to China, Russia or India.

Michel tweeted that the EU "is providing vaccines for its citizens and rest of the world."

The EU will also receive an extra four million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine over the next two weeks, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday. 

The extra doses will be earmarked for border regions that are under particular strain from recent outbreaks. The new delivery of doses is on top of the 64 million already agreed upon with the European bloc.

Russia signed a deal to produce its Sputnik V vaccine in Italy, the first contract to do so in the EU. The vaccine has not been approved for use by the EU, but the body's regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), started reviewing the vaccine last week.

Some EU nations, including Hungary and Slovakia, have been frustrated by what they consider a slow rollout, and approved the vaccine for emergency use in their respective countries. 

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Estonia's government banned groups larger than two, and closed non-essential shops in an effort to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Primary schools will also switch to online education and restaurants have to switch to take-out services. The new restrictions will take effect on Thursday and last until April 11. The Baltic nation has the second highest per capita rate of infections in the EU after the Czech Republic.

ICUs in Paris, France are nearly at maximum capacity with COVID-19 patients, health authorities warned Tuesday. The ARS regional health authority said 1,018 of 1,050 ICU beds for COVID-19 infections have been filled.

Doctors have decided to put off non-essential operations to keep beds free for more potential COVID-19 patients. A surge in severe cases comes ahead of a government crisis meeting Wednesday, with officials hoping to avoid a new lockdown.

The European Union warned that there will be a "bumpy" ramping up in COVID-19 vaccine production in the coming months.

Thierry Breton, the bloc's industry commissioner, said the commission's goal to dramatically increase vaccination output over the next three months is still possible.

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"I am confident that we will make it. But it's difficult. It's bumpy. And this is why we have this task force."

The EU received less than 100 million vaccine doses so far this year, well below original projections. But the bloc is preparing to receive 100 million doses every month between April and June.

The chair of Germany's National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, told the national newspaper Welt on Wednesday that Germany could vaccinate 20 million people per month from April.

Gassen said, that with the promised rapid increase in vaccine dose deliveries, the country could finish vaccinating, with two doses where necessary, the entire adult population by the beginning of August.

The head of Germany's vaccine committee (Stiko), praised Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

"It is a good vaccine which will probably be authorized in the EU at some point…Sputnik V is cleverly built," said Stiko head Thomas Mertens in comments that will be published in the Rheinische Post German newspaper on Wednesday.

The EMA is still reviewing the Sputnik V vaccine. It is not clear when a decision to recommend the vaccine will be made.

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Germany's Robert Koch Institute recorded 9,146 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours on Wednesday, more than double the number recorded on Tuesday and 127 more cases than the previous Wednesday. There were also 300 coronavirus deaths reported.

Bulgaria registered 3,502 new cases on Wednesday, its highest daily tally in three months, while the number of deaths increased to 132, according to government data.

The Balkan country, which has already banned non-urgent operations in hospitals in many cities, has said regional health authorities could shut down schools, shopping malls, gyms and restaurants if they deem it necessary.


Brazil recorded 1,972 COVID-related deaths in a single day on Tuesday, a new record, according to the country's health ministry.

Rio de Janeiro-based research institute Fiocruz said in a report Tuesday that intensive care units (ICU) are at 80% capacity in the capitals of 25 of Brazil's 27 states. In 15 of Brazil's largest cities, 90% of ICU beds were taken.

The institute said a growing number of cities are at risk of seeing their health systems collapse.

Virus runs rampant in Brazil

Honduras will receive 48,000 COVID vaccine doses on Saturday in its first shipment as part of WHO's COVAX vaccination program

COVAX was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines in developing countries. Honduras is eligible to receive enough doses to cover 20% of its population. 

Alaska became the first state in the US to allow anyone who is at least 16 years old who works or lives in the state to get a vaccine.

Governor Mike Dunleavy made the announcement after his own bout with the illness, and described the expanded eligibility as a "game changer."

Dr. Anne Zink, the state's chief medical officer, called the move a "gigantic milestone in so many ways."

President Joe Biden on Wednesday reiterated his claim that the US would have enough vaccine doses to inoculate all adults by the end of May. Biden added that surplus vaccine doses could then be shared with the rest of the world. 

Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the government has signed agreements for 12 million doses of the not-yet-unapproved Sinopharm vaccine, while increasing to a total of 20 million doses its contracts for the Coronavac dose made by China's Sinovac.

Deliveries of Sinovac have already begun in earnest, with the full 20 million doses anticipated by July. The Sinopharm doses are to be delivered between March and June.


Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered authorities to prepare new crematoriums. Sen said people who suffered COVID-related deaths are to be cremated, according to a report by state media outlet Agence Kampuchea Presse.

Cambodia has yet to report an official death from COVID-19.

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World Trade Organization (WTO) head Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called for boosting COVID-19 vaccine production in poorer nations.

"The fact is that each additional day he vaccine shortage continues, people will pay with their lives," said Okonjo-Iweala, noting that about 130 countries have yet to receive any vaccines.

A document signed by seven WTO members agreed with her, urging her to hold urgent talks with vaccine developers on how to boost production.

The Red Cross warned of gaps in the plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines around the world, saying remote communities risk missing shots.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which is aiming to vaccinate 500 million people against the illness, said there was "too little thought" about how to distribute doses in countries. The federation said it needed 100 million Swiss francs ($111 million, €92.5 million), to fill the logistics gap between vaccines going from airports to smaller communities.

The IFRC has raised just 3% of that figure.

IFRC president Francesco Rocca said, "without this funding, a gap will remain between the vaccines that will ultimately end this pandemic…such a gap means that the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, and that people will continue to get sick and die."

ab,kbd,jsi,wd/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)