Corona vaccine: BioNTech builds up production in Africa

Status: 10/26/2021 4:12 p.m.

The Mainz-based pharmaceutical company BioNTech wants to start building a first site for the production of its corona vaccine in Africa next year. The goal is to produce hundreds of millions of cans on site.

The Mainz manufacturer BioNTech wants to set up its own vaccine production in Africa. Construction of the first factory is scheduled to begin in mid-2022, the company announced. The production facility is intended to be the beginning of a production network on the African continent. BioNTech signed a letter of intent with the Rwandan government and the Pasteur de Dakar Institute in Senegal. An exact location for the production facility has not yet been named.

So far almost only imports

According to BioNTech founder Ugur Sahin, a regional production network is to be set up “to support access to vaccines produced in Africa for Africa”. The aim is “to develop vaccines in the African Union and to build sustainable vaccine production capacities in order to jointly improve medical care in Africa”.

BioNTech has completed the construction plans for the planned system according to its own information and ordered the first parts, which are to be delivered in mid-2022. The new production facility is to become the first hub of a decentralized African manufacturing network – that is, the vaccine is to be manufactured entirely on site. The continent still imports 99 percent of its vaccines. The goal is an annual production capacity of several hundred million mRNA-based vaccine doses.

First a production line

According to its own information, the company uses the experience it gained in setting up the production facility in Marburg. Initially, the construction of a first production line is planned in Africa, which, once completed, will be able to produce around 50 million Covid-19 vaccine doses per year. The production capacities are then to be increased gradually by adding more production lines and entire production facilities to the network on the continent.

BioNTech will initially operate the production facilities itself, after which the know-how will be passed on to local partners. Appropriate personnel capacities and systems are to be developed in cooperation with the authorities and Rwanda and Senegal. Talks are also being held with Cape Town-based vaccine manufacturer Biovac, which is part of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine manufacturing network, to expand the partnership.

Low vaccination rates in Africa

The African continent is suffering much more than other regions of the world from the corona pandemic. There are still massive differences in the progress of vaccination campaigns. While in Western Europe an average of more than 60 percent of the population is vaccinated, the vaccination quota in Africa is just under four percent. Originally at least ten percent of the population of Africa should be fully immunized by the end of September, but the World Health Organization (WHO) had to say goodbye to this goal.

For the Mainz-based company, the prospect of expanding into Africa is another success story. The vaccine that BioNTech sells with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is currently being prepared to start vaccinating for children aged five and over in the US.

In Germany, parents who want to be vaccinated will probably have to be prepared for a much later start. The spokesman for the professional association of paediatricians, Jakob Maske, does not expect the vaccine to be approved by the EU Medicines Agency until mid-November at the earliest. According to BioNTech / Pfizer, a clinical study showed that the vaccine was “well tolerated” for children of this age group and produced a “strong immune response” one month after the second dose. 2268 children of the age group took part in the study.

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