'Happy vaccine day' at Welsh factory proudly preparing Oxford doses

Staff at Wockhardt in Wrexham buzzing at news of approval after working over Christmas

Most of the sprawling industrial estate on the edge of Wrexham was quiet. There was little sign of activity at the engineering firms or in the self-storage units or greasy spoon cafes.

But behind the wire fence of the Wockhardt UK plant, the laboratories and production lines were buzzing as scores of staff worked on the final part of the manufacture of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

“It’s a very exciting day,” said Ravi Limaye, the managing director. “We are very pleased the moment has finally arrived. It’s really a matter of pride for all of us that we will now move forward at pace with the manufacturing and get doses out into the vaccination centres. This is a moment in history.”

Wockhardt (slogan: “life wins”) has the UK government contract to “fill finish” the Covid vaccines. It puts the finishing touches to the vaccine, which is manufactured by Oxford Biomedica, and pours it into vials that will be distributed around the country. When Boris Johnson visited the plant in November, he said what was taking place there could help provide “salvation for humanity”.

Boris Johnson visiting Wockhardt in late November
Boris Johnson visiting Wockhardt in late November. Photograph: Paul Ellis/PA

Limaye said staff had been keen to work over Christmas and new year to make sure the vaccine would be available as soon as possible once it was approved. On Wednesday some were wishing each other not happy Christmas or new year but “happy vaccine day”.

“Given the importance of this, we have worked through the holidays in shifts,” said Limaye. The plant is operating five days a week and could go to seven days if necessary.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to get those doses out,” Limaye added. “We should be able to come out with a few million doses in quick time.” Asked what “quick time” meant, Limaye said he expected millions of doses to leave the plant in January.

About 420 people work at the plant. Its involvement in the Covid vaccine has led Wockhardt to hire an extra 40 or 50 people. Jobs ranging from “sterile technician” to “warehouse operative” are still being advertised.

The exterior of the Wockhardt factory in Wrexham on Wednesday
The exterior of the Wockhardt factory in Wrexham on Wednesday. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The role Wockhardt is playing in the Covid crisis is a matter of pride not only in the company but also in Wrexham and across Wales. The Welsh Conservative assembly member and shadow health minister, Andrew RT Davies, said the vaccine showed Britain – and Wales – at its best. “This is incredible news during an extremely bleak time, especially as we should be enjoying the festive season,” he said.

Wockhardt has its headquarters in Mumbai but has had a presence in Wrexham for more than two decades. Dave Gray, a local businessman, said the town was proud of what was going on there. “Wrexham has many world-leading companies in specialist engineering, technology and pharmaceuticals,” he said. “It’s fantastic to hear that one of the town’s long established businesses will be at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19.”

It has been an interesting year for this corner of north Wales. The Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have taken over the local football club, and I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! was filmed up the road at Abergele.

Wrexham council’s leader, Mark Pritchard, said: “This is wonderful news for the whole country and it’s great for Wrexham to have this happening on our doorstep. The football club takeover and I’m a Celebrity put us on the map. But this beats them all.”

Contributor

Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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