After Johnson & Johnson allied itself with Aspen, it is Pfizer / BioNTech’s turn to partner with a South African company to produce its anticovid vaccine. The manufacturer has signed an agreement with the Biovac Institute, a semi-state company based in Cape Town. This will be the first time a Messenger RNA vaccine has been produced in Africa. Target: 100 million doses per year by 2023. Production can start as early as next year. Pfizer says it wants to reserve these vaccines for the African continent.
Vaccines produced in Africa exclusively for Africans. This is the originality of the Pfizer offering. For the continent, the advantage is to reduce dependence on foreign countries. We recall that the Serum Institute of India was discontinued in March export of the AstraZeneca vaccine. India, which was hit by a devastating wave of epidemics, then wanted to focus on its national demand. But the African continent, through the Covax system, had made this laboratory one of its main suppliers.
This type of disappointment should be avoided with a production reserved for Africans. On the other hand, the continent still has to rely on the outside. It is a “fill and finish” agreement that binds companies, reports our correspondent in Johannesburg, Romain Song. The ingredients will be imported from Europe and assembled in South Africa. The two laboratories thus retain control over the development of messenger RNA, as the serum will be sent from their European factories. It will therefore be bottled and distributed exclusively within the 55 member states of the African Union. Big and good news for the African Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
The agreement is far from the ambitions of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is fighting before the World Trade Organization to force manufacturers to share the prescription for their vaccines. While several emerging markets and NGOs are appealing for the repeal of patents to allow massive production of vaccines, the large laboratories are reluctant to pass on their knowledge. “Weakening intangible property will only deter innovation,” repeats Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer.
Despite this disagreement, President Ramaphosa called the partnership “a major step forward in overcoming inequality in vaccines.”
The first step in the process is the transfer – now – of technology to South Africa and the installation of suitable equipment at the Biovac premises. According to the announced schedule: by the end of this year, Cape Town’s site must be able to distribute Pfizer / BioNtech vaccines to the various countries on the continent.
The next step will be the packaging part, ie bottling of the serum delivered by the two laboratories that must be able to start next year and eventually take the 100 million doses from the South African factories in Biovac. and intended for African countries only.