Less than 2% of world’s COVID-19 vaccines administered in Africa. Source: WHO Africa - Photo: 2023

Drug Companies Consider Manufacturing Critical Vaccines in Africa

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK, 30 April 2023 (IDN) — African leaders have begun exploring the possibility of building manufacturing facilities for critical vaccines in their countries and ending their reliance on foreign countries for high-priced drugs.

Moderna Inc said this week it would set up a facility in Kenya—its first in Africa —to produce messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, including COVID-19 shots.

Moderna expects to invest about $500 million in the Kenyan facility and supply as many as 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines to the continent each year.

It took a pandemic to expose the fact that African countries import 99% of their vaccines. Africa has around ten vaccine manufacturers, but most do not make a vaccine’s active ingredients, and instead ‘fill and finish’ imported products.

Late last year, a South African drugmaker announced a deal to make the first COVID-19 vaccine in Africa for Africa.

The company, Aspen Pharmacare, agreed to produce its version of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shot. At the time, the continent’s immunization rate lagged well behind Western countries almost a year after their vaccines were first rolled out.

African leaders, including President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, who had grown tired of being at the mercy of other governments for shots during the pandemic, hailed the agreement as a milestone in the continent’s effort to set up its own vaccine-production facilities.

A lack of manufacturing is one reason that only 11% of the continent’s people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. African leaders, meeting for their annual summit in Addis Ababa last week, reiterated a target of vaccinating 70% of their populations this year.

So far, only Mauritius and Seychelles have met the 70% target, and COVAX, an initiative to provide vaccines for low- and middle-income countries, is running out of money.

Currently less than 1% of vaccines administered on the continent are manufactured locally, leaving countries unable to quickly respond to pandemics and other crises. Vaccines currently needed in Africa include those for chickenpox, diphtheria—tetanus, flue, measles, mumps, polio and shingles.

Strive Masiyiwa, African Union special envoy on COVID-19 and head of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, commented on the new developments.

“It gets us one step closer to securing Africa’s future vaccine production,” he said, “and ensures that the gross vaccine inequality we witnessed in the early part of the pandemic is not repeated.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Less than 2% of world’s COVID-19 vaccines administered in Africa. Source: WHO Africa

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