AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Historical developments in the fight to control the COVID-19 pandemic are happening in Auburn, Alabama, within the facility of a material science company whose workforce is proving to be a critical part of supporting the massive vaccination effort to save lives.
This week, we learn Phizer plans to seek emergency use authorization for its vaccine after reporting it’s 95-percent effective. Moderna is saying its vaccine is more than 94-percent effective.
The news directly impacts east Alabama as hundreds of workers in Auburn are playing a vital role in Operation Warp Speed’s vaccine distribution process. Every morning when hundreds of workers show up for work at Auburn’s Si02 Materials Science, they have a mission, to save the world one vial at a time.
In June, Auburn’s SiO2 clutched a $143 million contract with federal government agencies for a production scale-up of its state-of-the-art packaging platform for storing novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines and therapeutics. Their customers include Mederna and other pharmaceutical companies.
“There is a sense of pride and honor. Also, a sense of responsibility that they are getting the absolute best quality product and getting the supply chain organized; we are working with a lot of different partners, either the vaccine producers, the military, different partners of Operation Warp Speed, so it’s been fantastic,” said Lawrence Ganti, SiO2’s Chief Business Officer.
SiO2’s vials are innovative. The plastic outside means less breakable shipments. The glass inside protects medical liquids. The combination of plastic and a microscopic layer of glass means vials and syringes won’t break, shatter or crack. SiO2 ships its products worldwide.
“It’s very cool. Basically, think about taking a plastic container and having a microscopic layer of glass inside. When I say microscopic, I mean 50-times thinner than a human hair. So it feels like plastic and looks like plastic, but with all the protective qualities of glass,” said Ganti.
Over the last ten years, SiO2 developed its patented vial platform. The product was developed in Auburn with help from experts from four major U.S. research institutions.
Since the pandemic began, SiO2 has hired 350 new workers and built two new facilities to ramp up production. The company is proud to offer Alabamians job opportunities during a difficult economic time.
“We went from producing 10 million vials per year to 12 million vials per month,” said Ganti.
Ganti says for their Auburn workforce, the hard work is a labor of love amid loss.
“The biggest thing about getting the workforce to go so hard is to give them a common sense of purpose. Like it or not, they understand, and they have been affected by Covid. Either they have lost a loved one, friend. They had to stay at home or had kids at home when they had to work. So, they understand how horrible it has been to live and manage in this environment. So, that’s why we say we are saving the world, one vial at a time,” said Ganti.
“We’re proud to have some of the world’s leading scientists and product developers working in our community,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said. “With the presence of these companies and Auburn University’s outstanding medical and engineering programs, we believe we’ll see significant growth in the biotech industry right here in Auburn. On top of that, the well-paying jobs created through this project will result in significant economic opportunities for our local businesses.”
SiO2 has been shipping vials since August of this year. So far, the company has sent more than 20 million vials to Moderna and other companies producing COVID vaccines and other medicines.