BioNTech Founders Expect Covid-19 Pandemic to Last Until Mid-2022


The surge of coronavirus infections in developing countries such as India amid a relative scarcity of vaccine supply means that the pandemic will keep spreading until mid-2022, according to the inventors of the first Covid-19 vaccine authorized in the West.

Because of the urgency, authorities should consider such measures as mixing and matching vaccines from different manufacturers, said the founders of

BioNTech SE

BNTX -15.33%

at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit on Tuesday. The German company teamed up with

Pfizer Inc.

to test, manufacture and distribute its vaccine.

“We need to ensure really high vaccination rates world-wide. Otherwise, no one will be safe,” said

Uğur Şahin,

BioNTech’s chief executive officer. He said the pandemic would only end when herd immunity is accomplished world-wide.

“By mid-2022, even regions with high density populations like India will reach a high rate of vaccination and herd immunity,” Dr. Şahin said. “We will see in the next 12 months an increasing number of industrial, developing and low-income countries reaching this type of herd immunity just by increasing the manufacturing capacity of the currently existing players and adding new manufacturing sites.”

Dr. Şahin, who founded the company with his wife,

Özlem Türeci,

said that they were expanding their manufacturing alliance of more 30 companies in order to produce more vaccines to supply countries such as India.

Mixing and matching of different types of vaccines, including combining shots based on messenger RNA technology such as BioNTech’s with the so-called viral vector vaccines like that of

AstraZeneca

AZN -1.43%

PLC, could be necessary to end the pandemic, said Dr. Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer.

“The more vaccines we have available, the better…We can obviously mix and match them in principle,” Dr. Türeci said. “Because at the end of the day, we want to achieve herd immunity. We want to achieve as many vaccinated people as possible.”

Dr. Türeci said BioNTech, which owns the rights for the vaccine it markets together with Pfizer, isn’t in discussion with companies in India or other developing nations to license production because it will only produce the shots within its validated and established manufacturing network.

The production process for mRNA vaccines is complex, which makes transferring know-how to new manufacturing partners a slow process.

BioNTech co-founder Uğur Şahin talks about how social distancing and vaccination rates are affecting the Covid-19 pandemic in different parts of the world. He spoke at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit.

BioNTech’s manufacturing network, which raised its 2021 target from 1.2 billion doses in December to more than 3 billion, will keep adding new manufacturing sites to scale up production and supply developing and low-income countries.

BioNTech has teamed up with Pfizer for global manufacturing and distribution, except in Germany, China and Turkey, where the German company operates alone or with other partners.

In China, BioNTech is teaming up with Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. It has already received a government order of 100 million doses pending authorization by China’s regulators.

The vaccine could be approved for use in China by June, and talks are ongoing between BioNTech and the Chinese government that could result in ordering extra doses, said Dr. Şahin, who traveled to China last month.

Dr. Şahin echoed Chinese officials who said last month that the BioNTech vaccine could supplement their homemade shots, which were shown to be less effective in trials and real-life studies.

“Based on the ongoing evaluation now for more than 12 months and conversations with the Chinese authorities, we expect that the approval of our vaccine could happen in the next two months,” Dr. Şahin said.

“Once it happens, we will start to supply China with the first 100 million vaccine doses,” he added.

“We believe there is more room to deliver vaccines to China, our vaccines might complement existing Chinese vaccines and might be particularly useful for the elderly population, which could benefit from the high efficacy rate and excellent safety profile that we have observed for our vaccine,” he said.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com

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