As pharmaceutical companies around the world race to create a coronavirus vaccine, the alarm is being raised about a problem that may sound small but actually looms large: The world doesn't have enough glass vials to store a vaccine in—and a glass shortage complicates hopes of a quick fix, reports Politico. Similar logistical issues affect the supply of stoppers that go in the vials, as well as needles and syringes. Vaccine expert Rick Bright, who was ousted from his government post amid the coronavirus battle, warned about the shortages in his whistleblower report, per BioWorld. Others, including Bill Gates, have warned that a shortage of medical glass and stoppers poses a real problem in what is known as the "fill and finish" process of creating vaccines, reports the New York Times.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a sand shortage in the US was causing problems in the production of medical glass. The material for vials must be sturdy enough to withstand cold temperatures and getting shipped around the world, per Business Insider. Politico quotes a financial analyst noting that desert sand is too smooth, and the necessary "angular" sand from rivers and mining is harder to obtain. Drug manufacturers are well aware. For example, Johnson & Johnson is looking into the possibility of making a five-dose vial, assuming a smaller dose works for inoculation. But with the potential need for 8 billion doses around the world, no easy answers were in sight. (Some vaccine makers hope to have one ready in the fall.)