An Interview with Sean Batten, Director, Supply Chain Viral Products, Sanofi Pasteur
With summer in full swing, the upcoming flu season is probably the last thing on just about everyone’s mind – except the people at Sanofi Pasteur.
At its facility in Swiftwater, PA, summer is the key time for Sanofi Pasteur’s preparation of seasonal flu vaccine – more than 65 million doses in the United States alone.
And here are seven other surprising facts you might not know about the world’s largest manufacturer of influenza vaccines.
1. IT’S A NEW VACCINE EVERY YEAR AND A HUGE GLOBAL EFFORT
Manufacturing a pill is pretty much the same each time. But not the flu vaccine. Every year, the vaccine changes to reflect the different strains in circulation. Year round, scientists across the globe track, analyze and classify the viral strains causing illness. This allows the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to select the strains for the upcoming season’s vaccine in February. And that’s just the beginning of the flu vaccine manufacturing process, a process that starts all over every year. “We can’t just use the same vaccine year after year,” says Sean Batten, Director, Supply Chain Viral Products, Sanofi Pasteur. “It’s like manufacturing a new product every year.”
2. QUALITY AND SAFETY TAKE UP A LOT OF TIME
Quality and safety checks account for about 75 percent of the time devoted to producing and manufacturing a seasonal flu vaccine. This includes quality control tests for purity, sterility and potency at each step in the process, along with careful inspection of vials and syringes before labeling. Then, the vaccine undergoes review and release by the FDA. “You build the quality in from the beginning, and you check and recheck it throughout the production process,” Batten says.
3. YEAR-ROUND OPERATION, JUST A FEW MONTHS TO VACCINATE
The complex and quality-control-driven process means that it takes many months to manufacture flu vaccine, deliver it to healthcare providers and then administer it to people. Even though most flu vaccinations only occur from August to November.
4. NOT JUST NATIONWIDE – WORLDWIDE
Sanofi Pasteur’s Swiftwater campus ships flu vaccine to 29 countries, providing more than 100 million doses worldwide. Sanofi Pasteur has production facilities in the U.S., France, Mexico and China and supplies about one-third of the Northern Hemisphere’s supply and 60 percent of the Southern Hemisphere’s supply.
5. HISTORY ABOUNDS IN SWIFWATER
Swiftwater has been a site devoted to vaccine research, development and manufacturing since 1897. That’s when Dr. Richard Slee, who studied under Louis Pasteur, acquired four acres of land and built a lab to produce a new smallpox vaccine. Since then, flu vaccines have been researched and manufactured at the Swiftwater site for nearly 70 years, and several of the buildings on the campus are named for the earliest scientists who worked there, with links to Pasteur, Jonas Salk and others.
6. HISTORY IS PERSONAL, TOO
It’s not just vaccine history; it’s family history in Swiftwater, too. As many as three generations of employees have worked in Swiftwater, and a great-grandson of the first head of quality control now works at the facility.
7. POWERING UP SO NO POWERING DOWN
Vaccinating people against the flu is a fundamental component of public health, so the Swiftwater facility must operate around the clock, even in the most challenging weather. Sanofi Pasteur’s facility has dedicated power, but it’s more than just power; it’s a little city on its own. “I like to say we’re a city in a small town,” Batten says. “You walk around campus in January or February. There may be a foot of snow on the ground, but this place is still running.”