BioNTech mulls producing Covid vaccines in Africa
German biopharmaceutical group, BioNTech SE, is mulling making Covid-19 vaccine out of production sites in Africa to expand the company’s supply network in regions around the world, Ugur Sahin, chief executive officer, said.
“I can imagine a production network in South America and for Africa,” Sahin said at a briefing with members of Germany’s foreign press association, according to a Bloomberg report. “We are also talking about African production sites.”
Sahin said he had met with representatives from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, earlier on and Wednesday about how to make more shots available in low-income countries.
Giving up patent rights on the vaccine isn’t the solution, the CEO said, adding that BioNTech wants to avoid a proliferation of versions of its shot.
One possibility instead would be a special license for competent manufacturers, though he said such production wouldn’t be able to help with supply until the end of next year.
Though BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer Inc. have committed to make 2.5 billion doses of their two-shot vaccine this year, the vast majority are tied up in lucrative contracts with the world’s wealthiest countries.
Africa trails the rest of the world in accessing the shots it needs to immunize its more than 1 billion residents.
“We don’t want to see a qualitatively inferior vaccine in Africa,” Sahin said. “Everything has to be certified. This is why we’re talking to organizations about giving a license for certified producers.”
African epidemiologists and some politicians have said the continent needs to develop its own vaccine manufacturing.
Currently, the ability to make vaccines of any kind — and largely just packaging the shots rather than producing them — is confined to South Africa, Senegal and Egypt on the continent.
South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. has agreed to manufacture as many as 300 million Johnson & Johnson Covid shots annually at a plant it owns in the country.
The country’s partly state-owned Biovac Institute plans to build an active pharmaceutical ingredients plant at a cost of as much as $241 million to make Covid shots in a partnership with ImmunityBio Inc.
“The greatest lesson that vaccine nationalism has taught us is the critical urgency for Africa to develop, manufacture and distribute its own biotechnology,” South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in an April 7 speech.