The development is “a critical step” in increasing African’s access to an effective COVID-19 vaccine, Biovac chief executive Dr. Morena Makhoana said. Lara Dovifat of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, called the agreement “a first step” but said it is “clearly not enough to achieve vaccine independence on the African continent.”
The Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases. Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022 with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa. She criticized the agreement’s failure to share Pfizer-BioNTech’s technology and know-how to independently manufacture vaccines with the South African company.
Pfizer’s goal is to provide access to its vaccine to people everywhere, CEO Albert Bourla said. But the vast majority of its vaccine doses have been sold in bilateral deals to rich countries and only a small amount was made available to the U.N.-backed effort to share COVID-19 vaccines fairly. For its mass inoculation drive, South Africa is relying on the Pfizer vaccine and has purchased 40 million doses, which are arriving in weekly deliveries.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is already being produced in South Africa. Aspen Pharmacare’s factory in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, is making the J&J vaccine in the same “fill and finish” process and has the capacity to make more than 200 million doses of the vaccine annually. The J&J vaccines made in South Africa are also being distributed across the African continent. South Africa’s vaccination drive is ramping up, with more than 220,000 people getting shots on weekdays. More than 5.5 million of South Africa’s 60 million people have received at least one jab, with more than 1.4 million fully vaccinated, according to official figures Wednesday. South Africa’s goal is to vaccinate about 67% of its population by February 2022.
Vaccination levels are low across Africa, with less than 2% of the continent’s population of 1.3 billion having received at least one shot, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To help alleviate the vaccine shortage on the continent, the U.S. is delivering in the coming weeks the first batches of 25 million doses of vaccines it is sharing with the African Union. Senegal, Burkina Faso and Gambia have received about 151,200 doses of the Janssen jab as part of a first delivery that will be increased in coming weeks. Ethiopia and Djibouti are also receiving doses.
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