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Ivey visits Auburn factory making vials for coronavirus vaccine doses

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Monday appeared at a ribbon-cutting for a factory in Auburn that will make glass vials in which COVID-19 vaccine doses will be stored and shipped.

SiO2 Materials Science, the company that built the plant, received a $143 million grant from the federal government in June to help make possible the facility Ivey toured on Monday. The new center will employ 220 workers, nearly doubling the size of SiO2’s workforce that is dominated by Auburn graduates choosing to stay in state.

“This day marks an important moment for Alabama and for SiO2, whose high-tech vials will be used in the delivery of a vaccine that will help end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ivey remarked in a statement.

The SiO2 vials are not made of the traditional, highly fragile glass that pharmaceutical companies have relied on in the past; instead, they are made of a proprietary blend of materials that can handle the stress of travel. The company’s Twitter handle is “RethinkGlass.”

Robert Abrams, founder and CEO of SiO2, noted in a release that his company’s vials and the process used to produce them took 10 years to develop and they are “protected by 300 worldwide patents and 6,000 patent claims.”

“The container that this vaccine is in has to be so pure and perfect that it doesn’t have a negative effect on the vaccine,” Abrams explained.

Ivey’s tour comes as federal regulators have cleared the way for members of the public to begin receiving doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. Ivey’s office says SiO2 vials “will play an integral role” in the ramping up of production for Moderna’s vaccine product.

“The company’s production of cutting-edge vials, which are being used to store and distribute Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, showcases the ingenuity and skilled workforce in Alabama,” noted U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) in a Twitter post. Shelby, via his powerful post atop the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped shepherd the federal funding for SiO2’s expansion.

SiO2’s new plant has 10 production lines that the company says can each produce 15 million units in a year.

The $143 million grant that helped bring the expansion facility into existence was part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed which has the goal of developing and distributing safe coronavirus vaccines as speedily as possible. Per the governor’s office, the Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn also gave support to the expansion.

“We are proud to be the home of such an innovative company that is contributing to the fight against COVID-19,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders stated on Monday. “On top of SiO2’s global impact, the company’s expansion has led to significant local investments, including the addition of hundreds of well-paying jobs to our community.”

“The technical accomplishments of SiO2 demonstrate to the world the kind of highly innovative and groundbreaking work that is being done in Alabama. We’re very grateful for this achievement and this company,” Ivey concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.