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Quality staff in short supply as vaccines take off

By Lavina Rose, Quality Management, Tech Ops & Engineering Contracts Manager

March 2021

Quality staff in short supply as vaccines take off

As the demand for Covid-19 vaccines globally continues to far outstrip supply, a significant shortage of quality assurance talent to oversee production and manufacturing is pushing up salaries for quality professionals. Compensation for quality talent has been increasing year on year for some time, and particularly for those with either vaccines or biologics experience, with Covid making an already tight market even tighter.

With many vaccines now moving beyond the clinical trials phase, we have seen a lot of CMOs and CDMOs aligning with pharma companies to get into manufacturing. Vaccines has always been a big market with significant demand for quality professionals, and with the volume of production now required, demand has skyrocketed. The good news is that many candidates with the requisite skills, currently employed outside of vaccines, see an appeal in moving in and playing their part in the Covid-19 response.

In particular demand right now are people with experience in HVAC and automated validation, which is happening in a much bigger way than it was before. We also see qualified persons being highly sought after to sign off batches of drugs for market release, and responsible persons to oversee supply chain processes are in greater demand, in part as a result of Brexit.

"Even while the UK rollout of vaccines continues apace, it will be a long time before global demand is met and so the shortage of manufacturing, tech ops and quality staff across the vaccine production landscape is not a short term problem."

 

One problem is that many of the companies winning the contracts to produce these vaccines are based in remote locations that do not appeal to candidates likely already unwilling to relocate mid-pandemic. Another issue is that, while the full impact of Brexit is yet to be felt, we are certainly seeing less mobility across borders. Even pre-Covid, professionals were leaving the UK to return to their home countries in Europe, which is now further compounding the skills shortage.

We do not yet know whether Covid can be eradicated or whether we are looking at a longer term cycle of annual booster jabs or an ongoing need to respond to new strains of the virus. What is clear is that even while the UK rollout of vaccines continues apace, it will be a long time before global demand is met and so the shortage of manufacturing, tech ops and quality staff across the vaccine production landscape is not a short term problem.

The only solution will likely see those pharma companies and CMOs looking to recruit these skillsets forced to get more creative, potentially onboarding candidates that boast some but not all of the requisite knowledge, drawing on contractors as well as permanent staff, and even taking people from generics and upskilling them for a sterile environment.

Demand for quality and tech ops talent is also growing in ATMP production, biologics and biosimilars. Those looking to hire will therefore need to offer lucrative packages and remain innovative in their approach if they are to bring on the professionals necessary to meet ambitious timelines and fulfil demanding contracts.