By Clara Gámez
Brussels, Nov 29 (efe-epa).- From beer brewing to producing the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19, the Belgian town of Puurs, population 26,000, has taken on an essential role in the campaign against the pandemic.
“We have a good combination for the health of the people, Covid vaccine and good Duvel beer,” the town’s mayor, Koen van Der Heuvel, tells Efe in an interview.
Situated in the province of Antwerp, 30 kilometers from Brussels, Puurs is a Dutch-speaking, agricultural town that is also home to several pharmaceutical companies, including American giant Pfizer, which has a factory capable of producing 400 million doses of the new vaccine each year.
Around 5,000 people are employed in the pharmaceutical industry in Puurs, but the town is also famous for its strong Duvel beer, which it has been brewing since at least 1871.
To the displeasure of many, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the town’s bars to temporarily close.
The search for an effective vaccine continues, however.
Puurs is geographically blessed, with quick access to Brussels Airport and the Port of Antwerp, meaning it can export its goods around the world “very quickly,” the mayor says.
It was for this reason that Pfizer chose the town as a manufacturing point for the vaccine, which is being developed with German firm BioNTech.
Van Der Heuvel, mayor for the last 24 years, got the news during the summer — from its headquarters in New York, Pfizer had chosen Puurs as a manufacturing hub along with its factory in Kalamazoo in Michigan.
When Pfizer and BioNTech reported that the vaccine had shown 90% efficacy in late-stage testing, some of the locals asked the mayor whether they would get the chance to be vaccinated first, something he said would be “impossible.”
The relationship between Puurs and Pfizer goes back some time.
“Pfizer has invested enormously in Puurs in the last 10 years, the number of employees has doubled, there are almost 3,000 employees working in the Pfizer plant,” the mayor says.
Belgium is one of the three leading exporters of pharmaceuticals in the European Union, along with the Republic of Ireland and Germany.
The EU has already signed pre-orders with six vaccine programs: Pfizer/BioNTech (300 million doses), Sanofi-GSK (300 million), Curevac (405 million), AstraZeneca/Oxford University (400 million), Johnson & Johnson (400 million) and Moderna (160 million).
All are pending final approval from the EU’s regulatory body. EFE-EPA