A woman receives her second Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine jab from a healthcare worker during a vaccination drive in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Oct. 1, 2021. (File photo: AP) - Photo: 2024

African Union’s Health Group Slams Drug Maker For ‘Vaccine Inequity’

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | 22 April 2024 (IDN) — Moderna, the drug company made famous for its COVID vaccines, has abandoned plans to construct vaccine plants in Kenya, drawing criticism from the African Union’s public health agency that the company is not committed to ‘vaccine equity’.

Africa’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) expressed its disappointment over the drug company’s decision to “pause” its plans for building a $500 million vaccine manufacturing facility—a first of its kind—in Kenya.

The biopharmaceutical company made headlines in October 2021 when it announced that it would produce up to 500 million injectable doses annually.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU), signed in March 2022 designated Kenya as the site of the company’s mRNA factory.

At the signing, the company announced: “It’s important for Moderna to have a plant in Africa simply because its future treatment portfolio is focused on many respiratory viruses and tropical diseases that are most prevalent on the continent.”.

But two years later, Moderna re-assessed its plans as the demand in Africa for COVID-19 vaccines had declined since the pandemic and was insufficient to support the viability of the factory planned in Kenya, according to their official statement.

“Moderna has not received any vaccine orders for Africa since 2022 and has faced the cancellation of previous orders, resulting in more than $1 billion in losses and write-downs,” the drug company claimed.

“Building a facility that would go unused, when we have more than enough regionally distributed manufacturing capacity to ensure vaccine supply to Africa, would not contribute positively to the public health agenda, which continues to be our priority,” said Moderna’s chief legal officer Shannon Thyme Klinger.

The Africa CDC, however, dismissed the justification. “To blame Africa and Africa CDC for the lack of COVID-19 vaccines and therefore the reason to put plans to manufacture vaccines in Africa on hold only serves to perpetuate the inequity that characterized the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Further, claimed Africa’s CDC, “While other vaccine manufacturers are progressing with their plans and construction in Africa, Moderna is abandoning a commitment to build highly needed and relevant vaccine manufacturing capacities in Africa. “This demonstrates that Moderna is not committed to vaccine equity and access to vaccines through building manufacturing in Africa.”

When just one per cent of the vaccines administered in Africa are produced locally and the remaining are imported, expansion of local manufacturing of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics is essential for enhancing regional and global health security, wrote the medical publication DownToEarth, a Mumbai-based nonprofit organization.

The continent must become self-sustaining, especially in the face of leading vaccine manufacturers like BioNtech going back on their words.

South African coronavirus cases as of April 13, 2024, reached 4,076,463. South Africa recorded the highest number of casualties, with over 100,000 deaths. Number of patients who recovered: 3,912,506.

Other companies backing out of development plans include GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and their spinoff Haleon, GSK said in a press release.

GSK has operated in Nigeria for more than 51 years, according to Business Insider Africa. The publication notes that GSK is exiting Nigeria—and similarly has left Kenya—due to complexities in foreign exchange rates, security concerns, rising operational expenses and uncertainties around policies. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: A woman receives her second Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine jab from a healthcare worker during a vaccination drive in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Oct. 1, 2021. (File photo: AP)

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate

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