BioNTech mulls joining China, Russia in making Covid shots in Africa
London, April 29, 2021 (AltAfrica)-BioNTech SE is discussing the possibility of Covid-19 vaccine production sites in Africa to expand the company’s supply network in regions around the world, Chief Executive Officer Ugur Sahin said.
“I can imagine a production network in South America and for Africa,” Sahin said at a briefing with members of Germany’s foreign press association. “We are also talking about African production sites.”
If BioNTech makes the move, it will become the forth company taking such giant step to explore vaccine production in Africa
Already, Ghana pharmaceutical industry has approached AstraZeneca Plc about acquiring the rights to manufacture the U.K. company’s vaccine locally, a move that could boost supplies and speed up the inoculation program in the country
While, Algeria has announced plans to start producing Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in September in partnership with Moscow, Egypt’s pharmaceutical company Minapharm and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) have agreed to manufacture over 40 million doses annually of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Cairo.
Though BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer Inc. have committed to make 2.5 billion doses of their two-shot vaccine this year, the vast majority are tied up in lucrative contracts with the world’s wealthiest countries.
Africa trails the rest of the world in accessing the shots it needs to immunize its more than 1 billion residents. Globally, countries with the highest incomes are getting vaccinated about 25 times faster than those with the lowest, Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker shows.
Sahin said he had met with representatives from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, earlier on Wednesday about how to make more shots available in low-income countries.
Giving up patent rights on the vaccine isn’t the solution, the CEO said, adding that BioNTech wants to avoid a proliferation of versions of its shot. One possibility instead would be a special license for competent manufacturers, though he said such production wouldn’t be able to help with supply until the end of next year.
“We don’t want to see a qualitatively inferior vaccine in Africa,” Sahin said. “Everything has to be certified. This is why we’re talking to organizations about giving a license for certified producers.”
African epidemiologists and some politicians have said the continent needs to develop its own vaccine manufacturing. Currently, the ability to make vaccines of any kind — and largely just packaging the shots rather than producing them — is confined to South Africa, Senegal and Egypt on the continent.