AFRICA – BioNTech, now a global household name thanks to its work to produce the first COVID-19 vaccine to win full approval from the U.S. FDA, wants to take its know-how to Africa and manufacture vaccines for a host of other diseases that are also affecting local populations on the continent, most notably malaria and tuberculosis.
The German company said it was examining the establishment of sustainable production facilities in Rwanda and Senegal.
“Our goal is to develop vaccines in Africa and to establish sustainable production capacities for vaccines in order to jointly improve medical care,” CEO Uğur Şahin said.
BioNTech’s technology could also be applied beyond COVID-19, Şahin explained. The company is already working on vaccines against tuberculosis, malaria and HIV.
“There is no guarantee that these projects will be successful,” Şahin said. “But we have to be prepared for success.”
Şahin spoke about the plans after meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Senegalese President Macky Sall and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the sidelines of the G-20 Compact with Africa economic conference.
The initiative was launched in 2017 under the German G-20 presidency to promote private investment in Africa and includes 12 African countries.
According to the initiative, the countries of the African Union currently import 99% of their vaccines. By 2040, this figure should be only 40%.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, the African Union asked Europe in July to do more to address global inequities in vaccine distribution.
At the G-20 Compact with Africa meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also called for more commitment to the independent production of coronavirus vaccines in Africa.
Everything must be done “to make it possible to supply Africa with vaccines and also to make it possible to produce medical supplies and vaccines on the African continent as quickly as possible,” Merkel said on Friday.
The choice of Rwanda and Senegal follows recommendations from the African Union and its health organization, it said. BioNTech could in principle also produce its COVID-19 vaccine at the local facilities.
The European Investment Bank also wants to offer financial support for the projects in Senegal and Rwanda, its President Werner Hoyer said. Only with more local production can countries overcome COVID-19 and become more resilient to future pandemics, he said.