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Africa is getting its first full-service vaccine facility

REUTERS/Yves Herman
Africa relies 99% on the rest of the world for vaccine supplies.
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Senegal will be home to Africa’s first full-service vaccine manufacturing plant, after the Institut Pasteur de Dakar and the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced the conclusion of a $80 million financing agreement to respond to diseases in the continent.

The new facility, dubbed Madiba (Manufacturing in Africa for Disease Immunisation and Building Autonomy) will be built in Diamniadio, a town and special economic zone strategically located 37 kilometers from Senegal’s capital Dakar. It will be Africa’s first high-volume vaccine production site, and speaks to a need that’s become clear as the continent struggles to vaccinate its population against covid.

When the new facility is operating at full capacity, it will be able to produce up to 300 million vaccine doses each year for the continent, which is currently 99% dependent on vaccine imports. The plant will also be a training site for the production of next-generation vaccines.

Dr. Amadou Sall, director of the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, says current vaccine-manufacturing is too centralized in certain parts of the world, and that it’s “essential to create decentralized vaccine manufacturing capacity to address this imbalance,” which could also create new employment opportunities for thousands of young Africans. EIB vice president Ambroise Fayolle says the new facility will “contribute to greater autonomy in the production and distribution of essential vaccines.”

Africa’s reliance on vaccine imports

Covid-19 has proven a crucial example of Africa’s vaccine limitations. In January and February, covid vaccine uptake in the continent rose by 15%, but as of March, 15 countries still hadn’t gotten 10% of their population fully vaccinated, and 21 countries had only vaccinated between 10% and 19% of their populations, according to the World Health Organization. To date, only Africa’s island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles have surpassed 70% vaccination coverage.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” said Irène Mingasson, head of the EU Delegation to Senegal. “We must therefore work together to ensure equal access to vaccines around the world.”

As it stands, most African countries get their vaccine supplies from UNICEF through the vaccine alliance Gavi, but only a few countries can sustainably procure vaccines.

Africa’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, South Africa-based Aspen, has produced about 180 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but last month said it would halt production. There are also production plants in Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Tunisia but all have limited manufacturing capacity and only handle the very final steps of labeling and packaging.

There are other signs of production progress, too. The African Continental Free Trade Area, African Medicines Agency, and the Framework For Action are all involved with technology-transfer partnerships with outfits like Biovac in South Africa, Institut Pasteur in Morocco, the government of Ghana, and Innovative Biotech in Nigeria. In March, US-based Moderna, one of the pioneers of covid’s mRNA vaccines, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kenyan government to establish the first mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa.

But increasing vaccine manufacturing capacity is only half the battle, notes University of Pretoria professor David Walwyn, who teaches on technology management. “To make a vaccine, you need intellectual property as well as know-how,” Walwyn notes in the World Intellectual Property Organization magazine. “The operation will require the establishment of a regulatory system for drug approval and a quality assurance system that will be able to certify each production batch.”

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