US giant, Pfizer, has signed an agreement with Biovac, a Cape Town-based biopharmaceutical firm, to establish a plant in that country which, when fully operational, will produce 100 million COVID-19 doses annually exclusively for Africa.
In a statement this afternoon, officials from Pfizer and its German partner in the vaccines, BioNTech, said manufacturing of finished doses was expected to begin next year. Biovac’s Cape Town facility will be incorporated into the vaccine supply chain by the end of 2021 and Biovac will obtain drug substance from facilities in Europe.
“From day one, our goal has been to provide fair and equitable access of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to everyone, everywhere,” said Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer.
“Our latest collaboration with Biovac is a shining example of the tireless work being done, in this instance to benefit Africa.
“We will continue to explore and pursue opportunities to bring new partners into our supply chain network, including in Latin America, to further accelerate access of COVID-19 vaccines.”
The latest developments come as a blessing to Africa which currently lags behind the world in terms of access to COVID-19 vaccines. Despite experiencing some of the world’s fastest rising COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, less than two percent of Africans have been vaccinated thus far.
By July 16, Botswana had vaccinated just under five percent of the eligible population, although government this afternoon announced it would begin vaccinating the key 30 to 54 year range which forms the bulk of the targetted, working population.
Botswana had already secured an unspecified number of doses from Pfizer through a bilateral arrangement. As at July 16, the country had vaccinated 194,676 people with their first dose and within that figure, 116,147 had received their second dose.
Meanwhile countries such as the US and Canada, which pre-ordered doses while research was ongoing, have vaccinated more than two thirds of their citizens and are fast approaching full coverage. Producers of the approved vaccines have been criticised for refusing to share their intellectual property with pharmaceutical producers in Africa, which would help faster rollout of the life-saving drugs.
“We aim to enable people on all continents to manufacture and distribute our vaccine while ensuring the quality of the manufacturing process and the doses,” said Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech.