COVID-19 Vaccines

Africa considers establishment of own vaccine plants amid limited virus shots for immunisation

*African countries, including Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal, have renewed calls for the continent own vaccine manufacturing plants as lack of production capacity currently hampers efforts at inoculating several millions of people on the continent

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

As a way out of the apparent vaccine cul-de-sac in which several tens African countries have found themselves in regard to securing the needed Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccines for immunisation, countries on the continent again, have urged the establishment of full vaccine-manufacturing plants.

Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal are among the latest countries that have made case for establishment of African own vaccine plants.

According to them, the move is essential to prepare for future pandemics as the black continent currently, has found itself at the back of the queue for COVID-19 shots, while the high-income countries have reportedly secured most of the available virus vaccines.

ConsumerConnect reports as several developed or high-income countries are well advanced with their vaccination rollouts since December 2020, most African countries are almost out of initial supplies.

The continent accounts for negligible two percent of the over two billion global administered vaccine shots, according to data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Likewise, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are fewer than 10 vaccine manufacturers in Africa, based across Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and South Africa.

However, most of those these countries do packaging and labelling rather than manufacturing proper, Bloomberg report said.

It is stated that this development makes the continent ill-equipped to source and supply doses in times of crisis just as this pandemic has demonstrated.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame said in the past week that “the only way to ensure vaccine equity is to produce more vaccines where they are needed.

“So long as Africa remains dependent on other regions for vaccines, we will always be at the back of the queue whenever there is scarcity.”

Among the biggest barriers to local manufacturing are intellectual-property protections. Meanwhile, almost 100 developing countries led by India and South Africa have petitioned for a waiver and the sharing of recipes for COVID-19 doses, but that’s been opposed by some countries and the drugmakers themselves.

Report also indicated that the United States unexpectedly, recently changed its earlier stance to back the proposal, thereby opening the door to negotiations among members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of WTO

In view of the latest development on vaccine access and equity, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of WTO, at a conference April 2021 said the campaign “is understandable given past and present experience of waiting in line to get life-saving medications and vaccines,”

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala stated that the WTO members “must increase vaccine production now and also look for pragmatic outcomes” to the intellectual-property protection issue.

In terms of the required skills for vaccine production, Stavros Nicolaou, Chairman of South Africa’s local pharmaceutical manufacturers industry association, said vaccine manufacturing needs both significant financing and specialised skills to build factories that can be certified as free from contamination,

Nicolaou noted: “These skills and expertise are in limited supply on the continent.

“It is possible to build further fill-and-finish capacity, but this requires local manufacturers, having guaranteed off-takes and ongoing demand.”

Meanwhile, as a step in the right direction, report stated the BioVac Institute, a state-backed South African vaccine company, has won a deal with US-based ImmunityBio Inc. to make coronavirus shots if that company’s vaccine is approved.

The company expects a new plant to cost as much as 200 millon euros ($241 million).

Similarly, in Ghana, the pharma industry body has also proposed a local factory, but says it could take as long as two years to complete.

BioVac currently runs a fill-finish site, allowing it to package doses, but now wants to build a plant that produces the ingredients needed for the vaccines themselves.

Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Limited, another South African company, has signed a deal with Johnson & Johnson to fill and finish its version of the COVID-19 vaccine locally. The plant being used cost 3.4 billion rand ($240 million) and came on stream in 2020, three years after Aspen started building it.

Going forward, William Ampofo, Chairman of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative also added his voice to the conversation, saying “the current COVID-19 pandemic presents a great opportunity to harness the various conversations and proposals into an action-oriented road map.”

Ampofo said “increased vaccine production in Africa will facilitate immunisation of childhood diseases and control outbreaks of highly infectious pathogens” on the continent.

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