Belgian town where UK's COVID-19 vaccine is made 'proud to save the world'

Belgian town where UK's COVID-19 vaccine is made 'proud to save the world'
Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
By Isabel Silva
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The town is situated between Brussels and Antwerp


The mayor of the small Belgian town producing the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine told Euronews they are proud to "save the world" with its production.

Koen Van den Heuvel, who has been the Mayor of Puurs for the past 24 years, said locals feel a great sense of pride that something that could save millions of lives is being manufactured in their town.

"I feel the pride of the inhabitants and we say now that we are going to save the world!" Van Der Heuvel told Euronews. "There is new hope. I hope that our town can have one of the 50 vaccination centres because for me it is very important that people can go near their home for a vaccine."

Located in Belgium's Flanders region, the town is home to a cluster of pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer.

At least 5,000 of the 16,000 inhabitants work at one of Puur's drug firms, so its mayor is more than happy to accommodate any of their requests.

"For me, it is a priority to have good relations with the company, and I will do my best to do it when Pfizer asks for something," said Van Der Heuvel. "We even solved [the issue of] a road, so that Pfizer could connect two of its sites. We also gave licenses to install two wind turbines." 

The production factory is strategically placed between Brussels airport and the port of Antwerp to deliberately allow for the quick global distribution of the vaccine.

But there are also logistical challenges with this particular candidate. It has to be transported at minus -70C degrees, so special containers with dry ice have been designed to guarantee safe transport by air and land.

Pfizer told Euronews: "We have developed packaging and storage innovations to be fit for purpose for the range of locations where we believe vaccinations will take place.

"We will utilize GPS-enabled thermal sensors with a control tower that will track the location and temperature of each vaccine shipment across their pre-set routes."

The EU has ordered 200 million doses, but the first shipments have already gone to the UK this week, so the residents of Puurs won't be some of the first to receive the vaccine.

Pfizer does, however, intend to deliver up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. It is also considering potential cooperation with the WHO’s COVAX initiative, which aims to guarantee vaccine access for low-income countries, something a large proportion of the world will be relying on.

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