Bavarian Nordic was commissioned in the early 2000s to develop a safer smallpox vaccine for the US, fearing that smallpox could be used as a bioterrorism weapon against the country, Sørensen says. The company has produced and stocked Jynneos for the country in the following years.
Sørensen denies that there has been a bottleneck in the delivery of the vaccine so far. The company has complied with every request it has received since the outbreak began, it said on July 28, including requests from every affected country.
“We have not seen any requests that exceed our current capacity so far,” says Sørensen. “We’ve heard from multiple sources that there’s a limitation, but we really think it’s a ghost.”
The ability to deliver these doses is due in large part to luck, Sørensen says. “When the outbreak came, we had … really by chance, equivalent to 2 million doses in bulk of our own vaccine [in addition to that owned by the US], and that was immediately converted into bottles,” he says. “And that’s what we started selling.”
There are now “very few” of those doses left, but the company has “scaled up production,” he adds.
Are stored vaccines shared?
Hopefully. In addition to the bulk vaccine stocked by Bavarian Nordic, the US Strategic National Stockpile, an emergency storage facility for drugs and medical supplies, includes millions of doses of ACAM2000 and thousands of doses of Jynneos.
More countries are thought to have stocks of smallpox vaccine. “I don’t think it’s really known which countries have stockpiles and how many vaccines they have, but it’s not just the US,” Heymann says.
The WHO has called on countries that have the vaccine to share doses with those who don’t. Some scientists have pointed out that monkeypox vaccines have not been made available to the African countries where the virus is endemic.
“I think we should all be concerned about equal access to vaccines,” Heymann says. But he emphasizes the fact that these vaccines were initially developed for stocks. “They were sold to countries for supplies in case the smallpox was used as a bioterrorist weapon,” he says.
Without the drive to build vaccine stocks, we wouldn’t have Jynneos. “It’s a real Catch-22, isn’t it,” Hermann says. “It’s a complicated issue. We need [incentives and financial support to make] these vaccines, but at the same time we need to distribute them as widely as possible.”