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Improving Vaccine Access in Asia One Plant at a Time

An interview with Eric Mansion, General Manager of Asia Zone for Sanofi Pasteur, on the importance of vaccination and how a new vaccine plant can help to support vaccine access in Asia.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, some Asian governments are facing problems securing vaccines for their people. In addition, the initial success in containing the spread of COVID-19 within the region has also led its people to believe that the virus is no longer a threat. Now with a renewed surge in infections, the inability to gain access to vaccines and the hesitancy of its people are worrying.

Recognising the importance of localising the production of vaccines, pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur has announced its investment to build a vaccine plant in Singapore. Here, we have Eric Mansion, General Manager of Asia Zone for Sanofi Pasteur to share with us the importance of vaccination and how having a new vaccine plant in the country can improve vaccine access in Asia.

1. Why is immunisation important?

Firstly, immunisation is the most effective way to help protect individuals and the surrounding people against life-threatening, vaccine-preventable diseases – especially among high-risk populations. When you are vaccinated, you are not only protecting yourself but also those who cannot and have not been vaccinated.

Since the emergence of vaccination, we have seen life expectancy increased by 15-25 years; and the control of infectious diseases through vaccination plays a big part in this result.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how important immunization is, with worldwide human and economic health by and large depend on it. Simply put, with immunisation, the human race can progress without the burden of diseases; and most importantly, immunisation saves lives.

2. What were the two main driving forces, besides the COVID-19 pandemic, that led to the investment in a vaccine plant in Singapore?

As one of the major healthcare players, it’s our responsibility to act and to meet the unprecedented growing demands for vaccines. This investment furthers Sanofi’s commitment to driving the future of vaccines by expanding manufacturing capabilities, strengthening production capacity in Asia to meet the ever-growing demands on vaccines, and answer more rapidly to future potential health emergencies.

The Singapore site will also serve to complement Sanofi’s existing manufacturing capacities in Europe and North America and will become a regional centre of excellence for vaccines production in Asia.

Our thanks to the Singapore Economic Development Board and all our stakeholders for working with us to reach this important milestone.

3. How will Sanofi’s investment in a new vaccine plant in Singapore help support vaccine access in Asia?

The new facility represents a major asset to produce antigens for new vaccines, as it would allow implementing the new industrial capacity required twice faster than the traditional construction model. This new facility is designed around a central unit housing several fully digitalised production modules that could produce up to three or four vaccines simultaneously, compared to only one in actual’s vaccines industrial workshops. This will increase industrial capacity on a moderate ground surface, productivity, flexibility and agility of the vaccine industry, which is known for the length of industrial cycles of the traditional model.

In short, Sanofi will be able to produce innovative vaccines on a massive scale in Asia, with the flexibility and agility to quickly respond to future pandemic risks as well.

4. What other stakeholders will Sanofi be working with in the development of the new vaccine plant in Singapore?

In addition to the partnership with the Singapore government, we will also mobilise a large ecosystem of companies, suppliers, start-up, and innovators who will help concretise this leading-edge innovative project.

5. Besides the manufacturing of vaccines, how will the vaccine plant in Singapore boost immunisation in Asia?

Across Asia, vaccinations are routinely carried out against infectious diseases such as flu, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, among others. Our role as a vaccine’s manufacturer is to meet the increased demand for vaccines. By investing in a new production site in Singapore, we are aiming to strengthen production capacity to meet the ever-growing global demand for vaccines with the main focus on Asia.

6. Aside from the COVID-19 vaccine, what other key vaccines are Sanofi working on that are in demand now?

While we have engaged in the COVID-19 vaccine development, we will continue to build on our portfolio of vaccines against a wide range of infectious diseases for people around the world and this includes diphtheria, polio, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, meningitis, and flu.

7. In view of the theme of the 2021 World Immunisation Week, “Vaccines bring us closer”, what does Sanofi have in plan to achieve this goal?

Life-course immunisation is a significantly under-utilised public health intervention in many countries across Asia-Pacific. Unlike the United States and Europe, the importance of routine vaccination options beyond childhood are not well-recognised by policymakers nor well-understood by adult populations and subsequently, adult elective vaccination rates are very low, and worryingly so for older adults and the more vulnerable.

While the importance of childhood vaccinations is clear, and many countries have compulsory vaccination schedules and mechanisms for delivering vaccines effectively to the paediatric population, the challenge is more elusive for adults and older adults. Beyond needing a motivation to seek vaccination that is not government-mandated, understanding what the vaccine is for, and how the vaccination works are crucial to increasing vaccine confidence, and subsequently uptake among the adult population.

What we want to accomplish and continue to pursue, in line with this year’s World Immunisation Week’s theme – “Vaccines bring us closer” is to improve awareness in this region, the value of life-course immunisation among public communities and support policymakers as well as health authorities to integrate immunisation into national-level healthy living and healthy ageing policies. This means updating national immunisation schedules to cover the whole life course, and that recommendations should be evidence-based and regularly reviewed in the interest of public health.

And how we are going to get there – like many national-scale ambitions, will require collaboration among diverse stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem to ensure that the successful uptake of life-course immunisation comes to fruition. [APBN]

About the Interviewee

Eric MANSION is the General Manager of Asia Zone, which includes TMS (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore), Vietnam & Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh for Sanofi Pasteur. Eric has a vast experience in various areas such as Supply Chain, Business Support, Business Operations, Country/MCO General Management and Regional Management.

He began his career with Sanofi Pasteur by managing international demand and supply processes at a global level. He then transitioned to managing business operations for Key and Emerging markets. Eric assumed leadership roles from 2009 onwards based in different countries throughout Asia. His role in Vaccines Operations saw him establishing new business models and developing new distribution channels to increase access to vaccination and strengthen the footprint of Sanofi Pasteur in the immunization community in the region.

Eric holds a Master’s degree in Biochemistry from Luminy Marseille. He also holds an advanced Master’s degree in Healthcare Industry Management.