* Temps include chemists, biochemists, pharmaceutical veterans
* Lonza to pay salaries, food, travel costs of government workers
* Bern labels Moderna vaccine ‘extraordinarily meaningful’ (Adds comment from Lonza, background from government)
ZURICH, May 19 (Reuters) - The Swiss government said on Wednesday it recruited 75 people including federal and university employees to temporarily staff facilities at Lonza , which struggled to find personnel to make ingredients for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
In April, the Swiss drugmaker contacted the government for help in finding temporary workers as it sought more people for operations in Visp, Switzerland, where it has built three new production lines to make the Moderna shots.
Of 40 million vaccine doses ordered by the Swiss government, so far, 20.5 million are from Moderna. With Bern labelling the U.S. company’s mRNA shots “extraordinarily meaningful” for its inoculation strategy, it is now directly stocking up Lonza’s workforce to make sure vaccine keeps flowing.
Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said the first of the provisional workforce could start in May, with deployments likely to last six months.
“We started a programme immediately to find specialists,” Berset told a news conference. “We’ve found 75 people in the federal administration, also in the universities.”
Some of those recruited are from the federal agricultural research unit Agroscope, the Office of Food Safety and the nation’s testing laboratory in Spiez, the government said, with biochemistry, chemistry or pharmaceutical backgrounds.
They will remain federal employees, but Lonza will cover their salaries, food costs, travel and lodging.
URGENT GLOBAL DEMAND
“The Swiss Federal Government is supporting Lonza in the recruitment of highly qualified specialists,” Lonza said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate this help during this time of urgent global demand.”
Concerns over Lonza’s ability to deliver ingredients on schedule emerged in April, when Moderna flagged expected second-quarter shortfalls in shots bound for countries including Britain and Canada and cited an uneven production ramp-up.
Vaccine from Lonza’s sprawling site in Visp is destined for countries outside the United States.
Even more specialists will be needed soon, as Lonza Group AG plans to double its Swiss production capacity for Moderna Inc’s vaccine next year to some 600 million doses annually.
Still, the Swiss government said these ad-hoc deployments are only meant to fill the gap during a crisis.
“In the mid- to long-term, the temporary deployment of specialists from the federal administration and state enterprises will not be the solution,” it said. (Reporting by John Miller and Michael Shields; Editing by Alex Richardson and Jonathan Oatis)