The first made-in-Africa Covid-19 vaccine has debuted in South Africa.
Biovac Institute, a pharmaceutical company half owned by the state has produced its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines as part of an arrangement under which it aims to fill and package as many as 100 million doses a year of Pfizer Inc. and BioNtech SE’s inoculation.
The doses, produced last week, are the first Pfizer shots for the disease to be made in Africa and will be evaluated by the South African Health Regulatory Products Authority before subsequent batches are planned for commercial sale next year, Morena Makhoana, the chief executive officer of Biovac said in a Bloomberg report.
The arrangement with Pfizer is part of a response by global pharmaceutical companies including Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson to criticism that they did little to help poor countries during the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic. Richer nations snapped up more vaccines than they could use and poor countries, many of them in Africa, had barely any to give to their citizens.
Johnson & Johnson has licensed South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. to produce its vaccine in South Africa and Moderna is looking to have its shot manufactured on the continent.
Nigeria and other countries on the continent are looking to follow South Africa’s lead while slowly putting their acts together on building the infrastructure for vaccine plants.
Even as demand for the vaccines has waned across the world, with the latest variants causing less severe disease, medical scientists have continued to urge the distribution of inoculations as they reduce the chances of hospitalisation and death. Cape Town-based Biovac is banking on continued demand for Pfizer shots as top-ups or boosters, to extend immunity.
The Pfizer shots will be stored in the freezers at the temperature required to ensure they remain effective.
Still, Aspen has struggled to get orders for its version of the Covid-19 vaccine and has largely pivoted to making routine inoculations such as pneumococcal, rotavirus, polyvalent meningococcal and hexavalent shots.