World Immunization Week takes on special meaning this year as the world continues to struggle with a new infectious disease, COVID-19. Despite lockdowns worldwide, Sanofi is working with partners globally to develop safe and effective vaccines against the novel coronavirus. Crucially, its teams are also working to ensure that life-protecting vaccines for other infectious diseases are still reaching healthcare providers and their patients across the world. Maintaining the production and supply of vaccines is vital during a time when the immediacy of the coronavirus crisis threatens to eclipse routine, preventive immunizations, which could lead to additional public health emergencies.
Assuring vaccine distribution
Vaccines remain essential during the pandemic. Disruption of routine immunization services could increase risks that vaccine-preventable diseases resurge, causing unnecessary suffering and even further straining emergency care centers, already stretched to their limits by COVID-19. For this reason, the World Health Organization has issued guidelines for continuing routine immunization during the pandemic where feasible and under safe conditions1.
To support this worldwide public health need, Sanofi’s industrial affairs sites are operating to sustain the supply of all our vaccines and distribute them to healthcare providers and their patients worldwide.
Besides our internal capabilities and thanks to longstanding relationships with trusted logistics partners, we’re able to ensure continued distribution of our vaccines as critical public health intervention. As an example, freight carriers are able to provide specialized air-conditioned compartments for vaccines even with strictly limited air travel during lockdowns.”
Making vaccines is complex and time consuming because they are made with biological materials. But with a shelf life of roughly two years for most vaccines, Sanofi remains confident that when lockdowns are lifted, any catch-up effect can be managed with existing and supplemental supply.
“We’re monitoring our pediatric, booster and travel vaccine markets and anticipating demand changes potentially for the next influenza season. We’re doing everything we can to manage this, anticipate and adapt our planning as needed to any change in signals from our various customers and stakeholders,” Laviron concludes. “This is our job. The sense of purpose has always been there and is now reinforced further across our diverse teams. We’re all in for patients.”
Maintaining essential manufacturing
It is also with patients in mind that the industrial affairs teams show up for work every day on our 12 manufacturing sites worldwide to meet the demand from governments, health authorities, hospitals, wholesalers and pharmacies around the world.
Jamie Duan leads a team of nearly 40 people on Sanofi’s vaccine manufacturing site in Toronto, Canada. There, the team is contributing to continued vaccine supplies with adapted plans to ensure the health and safety of those required to return every day to the factory floor during the crisis.
The team remains committed to making vaccines, so they have continuity plans in place that ensure coverage wherever needed for necessary posts. The status of staffing is monitored and adjusted every day to anticipate and adapt to any changes.
“Everyone on site is supportive of one another,” she adds. “If someone unexpectedly cannot come in one day, we help and fill in for each other. We’re also proactively identifying additional backup support from people across the company who used to work in our manufacturing area. In a situation where they could be required, they would be able to help ensure business continuity. It’s in these challenging times that our teams can often create unique bonds and build connections.”
The results of this dedication from Jamie’s team and all of our sites are clear: production output from all of Sanofi’s sites stands at nearly the same levels as usual.
Monitoring clinical trials and ensuring critical scientific progress of the Research and Development portfolio
In addition to supplying vaccines, the company is also adapting its plans and actions to pursue critical research and development initiatives. While vaccine projects have been launched with unprecedented speed to prevent COVID-19 infection, Sanofi is also meticulously monitoring clinical trials for other vaccine candidates, country by country, trial by trial, to mitigate delays on some ongoing clinical trials and adapting the progress of all research and development programs.
Sanofi has developed specific plans to maintain vaccine supply to ensure a maximum number of clinical trial participants can continue to receive vaccines on the designated schedules while maintaining the safety of patients and clinicians.
“We are first and foremost prioritizing ways to assure continuity for people enrolled in our ongoing clinical trials, including supply of their candidate vaccines. We’re also working closely with regulatory agencies worldwide to ensure we remain on track with our new vaccine projects’ critical milestones and to ensure that business critical activities continue.”
These are two critical activities among others that the R&D teams are managing, on top of assuring essential safety for the teams on sites. “It’s an essential ethical commitment as much as a business imperative to make sure that the clinical teams we’re working with can pursue with us the development of new vaccine candidates. On R&D sites, we are working very hard, social distancing while limiting disruption in our labs to a minimum. It’s a day-to-day adjustment.” Elsa Defrasne further explains that prior to social distancing, our laboratory spaces could allow for up to 15 researchers to work in a lab at once. With social distancing measures, we can only allow four or five. “So, we are reorganizing the workloads and processes to ensure they are optimally efficient within that new context. It’s essential that science and medicine can still progress,” she says.
All of Sanofi teams like Elsa’s, Jamie’s and Bertrand’s are staunchly supporting the ongoing public health fight against the world’s infectious diseases, which now includes COVID-19. Never has the search to develop a new vaccine been so crucial and the efforts to maintain routine vaccinations so important.
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