TOPLINE: Pfizer has struck a deal with a South African drug manufacturer to begin producing and distributing its coronavirus vaccine in Africa for the first time, the company announced Wednesday, in a move that follows mounting pressure to address inequalities in the global vaccine rollout.
Pfizer said it will be working with South Africa’s Biovac Institute, a public-private partnership focused on vaccine production, to produce and distribute over 100 million doses a year for the African Union beginning in 2022.
Biovac will be shipped batches of vaccine ingredients from Europe and then will perform so-called fill and finish operations, the last stage of manufacturing and packaging, according to a press release from the company.
Though technical transfer, on-site development and equipment installation activities will begin immediately, the company said manufacturing of the finished doses will only begin in 2022.
“At full operational capacity, the annual production will exceed 100 million finished doses annually,” which will be distributed within the 55 member states making up the African Union, the company said.
Pfizer CEO Andrew Bourla, who is set to give a speech later Wednesday at the World Trade Organization Summit, deemed the partnership progress toward the company’s goal of providing “fair and equitable” access to the vaccine “to everyone, everywhere.” Meanwhile, Biovac CEO Dr. Morena Makhoana lauded it as a “critical step forward.” “We believe this collaboration will create opportunity to more broadly distribute vaccine doses to people in harder-to-reach communities, especially those on the African continent,” said Makhoana.
The pace of vaccinations in Africa is running far behind the rest of the world. Just over 1.5% of Africans have been fully vaccinated, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making the continent’s goal of having 20% of its population vaccinated by the end of 2021 increasingly unlikely. This is largely due to a lack of African-based vaccine manufacturing facilities. The continent was relying on the World Health Organization-backed COVAX effort for its doses. However, COVAX has fallen far behind schedule, having delivered only 200 million doses since February (the U.S. has administered 338 million), in part because of the troubles of its biggest supplier, the Serum Institute of India.
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Africa’s rollout is lagging at a time when the more infectious delta variant is driving a record surge of cases. Earlier this month, the continent reported its “worst pandemic week ever” after 16 countries saw a resurgence in infections, amounting to over 250,000 cases reported in just one week.
“Africa’s Covid Crisis Deepens, but Vaccines Are Still Far Off” (The New York Times)
By Jemima McEvoy, Forbes Staff