Long-delayed flu vaccine factory nears production
Facility can be set up for swine flu outbreaks.
THE FIRST manufacturing centre producing flu vaccines in Thailand will be opened within the next three years in line with the national strategy to tackle flu outbreaks.
After a long delay due to technical issues, the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) announced yesterday that a GPO factory in Saraburi would be able to produce 2 million doses of vaccine per year in 2020, ensuring the country’s vaccine supply in case of a widespread flu epidemic.
Dr Nopporn Cheunklin, director of the GPO, said construction and installation of support systems had already been completed, but testing and certification of the vaccine production process was required before the factory could officially operate.
“Right now our progress on vaccines for three strains of seasonal flu is two-thirds complete in clinical trials in humans. The industrially manufactured vaccine will have to pass qualification from the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] and be registered before it can be publicly distributed,” Nopporn said.
“After the plant starts manufacturing, it will be the first flu vaccine factory in Thailand, which will supply vaccines to our market and ensure that the country will have flu vaccines in case of shortages during unforeseen flu outbreaks in the future.”
He said the vaccine factory was meant to produce inactivated flu vaccines, but it could be converted to manufacture live-attenuated flu vaccines, the H1N1 swine flu vaccine and the H5N2 bird flu vaccine in case of emergency outbreaks.
Nopporn added that the project was initiated by the government in 2007 after the bird flu outbreak in 2004 with Bt1.41 billion in government funds allocated, matched by World Health Organisation support totalling US$8.72 million (Bt290.3 million).
The plant was originally due to open in 2013, but construction faced technical problems regarding the factory design and other issues.
While the plant is meant to produce 2 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine per year, it should be able to increase production capacity to 10 million doses to meet increased demand. Thailand’s current demand for flu vaccines is about 2.4 million doses per year.
The price for flu vaccines from the GPO factory will start at Bt200 per dose.
Nopporn admitted that due to economies of scale, the GPO vaccine factory could not compete with imported vaccines. The price of seasonal vaccine was low due to the oversupply in normal situations.
However, he said that having a plant in the country would assure that Thailand has a sufficient supply of vaccines during flu outbreaks, strengthening national stability.
GPO deputy director Jakkrit Prapaipittayakul added that vaccine production could limit the economic impact from flu outbreaks. He noted Thailand’s experience with the bird flu outbreak, which cost the economy more than Bt7 billion.
“It is expected that there will be a major flu outbreak every 10 to 40 years and it is estimated that there will be at least 6.5 million patients and 6,500 to 35,000 casualties,” Jakkrit said.
“Therefore, this vaccine factory is a wise investment for the future.”