COLLEGE STATION, Texas - A lab in College Station is one of the few locations in the nation where mass production of a vaccine for COVID-19 will be done.
Video provided by Texas A&M of a clean room area called the Flexible Bio-manufacturing Facility, shows part of the process.
"Not only are we ramping up to manufacture, but they are probably going to hire another 80 to 100 people just to do the work over the next 18 months,” said Dr. William Jay Treat.
As Texas A&M’s Chief Manufacturing Officer, Treat says that moving from discovery to actual production will be quick, but he also said it will not be immediate. "My best guess is more likely going to happen in early January,” he said.
The ramp-up is nothing like flipping a switch and turning the machines on.
"This product has never been manufactured before, it’s a brand new product, it’s not like making a car. That’s for sure,” said Treat.
The site was built almost 10 years ago by Texas A&M in response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak. The building is now owned by FujiFilm and operates as a subcontractor to the university.
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"We always knew this day was coming,” said Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, who knows with the mission, there will be a lot of scrutiny.
"We might well be the place that mass produces the vaccine that saves hundreds of thousands of lives around the world, we are very proud of that. That why we built the facility, that’s why we've kept it up to date, that’s we are doing construction on it right now, to get ready for the things the federal government demands from vaccine manufacturing, and we'll be ready when that time comes, produce the vaccines and end this crisis,” said Sharp.
The site has multiple clean rooms that are interchangeable if one becomes contaminated. The process involves mixing vaccine in bulk and shipping it to other sites to be placed into vials. The formula, according to Treat, may be similar to how the current flu vaccine is done, a shotgun approach to address different strains.
"The data is going to have to show it, I don’t know whether there is a Silver Bullet where one of these is going to work. You know from flu that often times the vaccine is only 20% to 60% effective,” said Treat.
The A&M team is aware of reports that Russia approved a vaccine without completing testing protocols, and aware of the pressure to get it right.
"We don’t get the chance to make something that fails out for people, because then bad things happen when those occur so the key is to try to make it as safe as possible to treat the most number of patients and have good prognosis and outcome,” said Treat.
The A&M site could be in play beyond this crisis. The COVID-19 vaccine may not last for a lifetime but will be one that requires a booster shot - every few months- or years like a tetanus shot.
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