Moderna narrows down on locations for planned Africa based vaccine plant

AFRICA – Moderna, global Covid-19 vaccine giant, has announced that it is considering Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa as potential ground for its intended vaccine factory in Africa.

Moderna said last week it would build a plant in Africa to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines a year, including its COVID-19 shot, as pressure grows on pharmaceutical companies to manufacture drugs in lower-income countries.

Health experts have said Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa could be candidates because they either have existing vaccine expertise and production, or have expressed an interest in developing such an industry.

South Africa has a medical research capacity and a domestic pharmaceutical industry, Senegal’s Pasteur Institute produces yellow fever vaccines and Rwanda has expressed interest in making vaccines and drugs.

Some countries in North Africa, such as Tunisia and Egypt, also have pharmaceutical industries.

In related news, German drugmaker BionTech, in August said it was considering building malaria and tuberculosis vaccine production sites in Rwanda and Senegal.

Public health and government officials in Africa welcomed the news last week, but said the plant won’t address the continent’s urgent need for COVID-19 vaccines now.

Under 5% of Africans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the continent’s top public health official, John Nkengasong, noted after Moderna’s announcement.

The overall goal was to have a plant that could make multiple vaccines so that “in the future, if there is a pandemic, and there will certainly be, then we can very rapidly convert it and provide the vaccine security on the continent,” Noubar Afeyan, a biochemical engineer of Armenian origin who co-founded Moderna in 2010, said.

Moderna’s plans in Africa comes as debate rages between drugmakers and governments about waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and give more developing countries access to shots.

Politico reported last week that the U.S administration has urged Moderna to increase its vaccine production to boost donations to countries in need but the company is hesitating for fear it would be paid less for the shots it contributes.

Moderna said on Friday it aimed to deliver 1 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to low-income countries in 2022, in addition to the doses it has already committed to the global vaccine-sharing programme COVAX.

These vaccines will be part of the 2 to 3 billion doses the company has forecast to produce next year.

Afeyan said the notion that Moderna was not ramping up production to meet the requirements of countries in need was inconsistent with simple arithmetic.

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