Makers of vials and syringes have started building up capacity in anticipation of a surge in demand if and when a successful covid-19 vaccine is launched in India—a market that could hit $6 billion.

“We are working with many vaccine makers in India as well as some abroad. One of them is Serum Institute of India. Currently, we are supplying 4-5 million vials a month, along with aluminium seals from one of our other Kaisha Group companies, for their covid-19 vaccine requirements,” said Rishad Dadachanji, MD, Schott Kaisha, a joint venture between German pharma packaging firm Schott and Indian glass tube maker Kaisha.

Schott Kaisha, the market leader, has the capacity to manufacture 1 billion vials per year and the company said it can ramp up production quickly to meet demand.

“We are providing vials to many other players for their clinical trials. Most firms are taking multi-dose vials as they will be able to provide vaccines to more people,” Dadachanji told Mint.

Borosil, another leading name in vial manufacturing, is similarly prepared.

“At the moment, our capacity utilization is around 45% and the reason for that is that we have added a lot of capacity in the last year or so… As for our ability to ramp up, we could probably double revenues from here without having any further capex,” Shreevar Kheruka, MD and CEO of Borosil, said in a recent conference call.

Vial maker Gerresheimer India is planning to scale up capacity by 30%. Currently, it can make 200 million vials and mould another 350 million glass pieces, said Khasim Saheb, Gerresheimer’s India MD – primary packaging glass division.

Hindustan Syringes and Medical Devices Ltd, the world’s largest manufacturer of auto-disable syringes that are used for vaccination, announced plans last week to scale up production to 1 billion syringes a year in the first half of 2021 from 700 million currently. The company hopes to have a stock of 140 million syringes by the end of the year.

“For a billion doses, you will require a billion syringes minimum, but you will not require a billion vials as they are multi-dose. There may not be a crisis in the supply of vials, but with syringes, we will have to scale up capacity,” said Hindustan Syringes MD Rajiv Nath.

A potential problem for mass manufacturing of covid-19 vaccines is the ‘fill-finish’ capacity to produce ready-to-go bottled vaccine. Although the vaccine itself can be bulk manufactured, there isn’t enough space to keep hundreds of millions of bottles. With the government still in discussion with companies about spare capacity, there is no clarity on fill-finish, an industry official said.

Sales of covid-19 vaccines in India could potentially be worth $6 billion over three years, according to a report by Sanford Bernstein last month.

The government is projected to procure 780 million doses to vaccinate 30% of the population, roughly half of what is required to reach herd immunity. Others may be asked to go to the private market. Currently, three Indian firms are conducting human trials for covid vaccines.

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