Fujifilm Injects Funds into Teesside Covid Vaccine Factory: £400m investment looks to tackle the omicron outbreak

December 18, 2021

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What's going on here?

A factory in Teesside which makes vaccines for the US company Novavax is set to receive a £400m funding boost to push vaccine productions.

What does this mean?

The Billingham Plant is a chemical manufacturing base in Teesside, north-east England. The factory is owned by Japanese company Fujifilm who are perhaps best known for producing camera equipment. Fujifilm plans to make the factory the largest of its kind in the UK.

The hope is that this investment will help to produce enough vaccine supplies to continue to combat coronavirus. The site currently has the capacity to produce 60m doses of Novavax a year but with the new investment this number could jump to 180m doses. As the pandemic looks to continue into the new year with the spread of the Omicron variant, vaccine demand is only increasing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented that “this is a significant investment in British biopharmaceutical manufacturing and will power our response to some of today’s most urgent global health challenges and deliver life-changing medicines and vaccines to patients in need”.

What's the big picture effect?

This new investment will create 350 new jobs in the North East. The area has previously been a manufacturing hub for chemical production. However, it has since seen a decline in recent years.

Fujifilm’s investment also follows wider trends within the pharmaceutical industry. Companies such as Pfizer and GSK have also upped their vaccine and medicine production capacity with Pfizer investing £10m in its Kent factory. However, these high value investments have not come without ethical questions. Pascal Soriot (CEO of AstraZeneca) has asserted that vaccines have saved “millions of hospitalisations”. Whilst this is undeniable, large pharmaceutical companies including AstraZeneca and Novavax have begun to profit from vaccine production exposing them to criticism. Research undertaken by the charity Oxfam unearthed that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna “are making combined profits of $65,000 every minute”. Vaccines remain available to poorer countries at a lower cost.

The controversy here lies in the fact that these companies have received over $100 million in public funding to produce vaccines, yet are now profiting off the back of such public money. US-based companies Pfizer and Moderna have also come under fire for avoiding taxes. For example, Moderna only paid tax at a rate of 7% during the first six months of 2021 (the statutory rate for US companies sits at 21%).

The factory’s expansion will certainly be a positive step to control the spread of Covid-19. Yet pharmaceutical companies are only going to come under further scrutiny if their vaccine-associated profits continue to soar.

Report written by Amber Allen

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