Sun | Aug 1, 2021

South African firm to make Pfizer vaccine, first in Africa

Published:Thursday | July 22, 2021 | 12:07 AM
An elderly patient receives a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Orange Farm, near Johannesburg. Pfizer has announced that a South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine, the first time that the vaccine will be
An elderly patient receives a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Orange Farm, near Johannesburg. Pfizer has announced that a South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine, the first time that the vaccine will be produced in Africa.

JOHANNESBURG (AP):

A South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the first time that the shot will be produced in Africa, Pfizer announced on Wednesday.

The Biovac Institute, based in Cape Town, will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases.

Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials, and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022, with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa.

The development is “a critical step” in increasing African’s access to an effective COVID-19 vaccine, Biovac chief executive, Dr Morena Makhoana said.

Pfizer’s goal is to provide access to its vaccine to people everywhere, CEO Albert Bourla said. But the vast majority of its vaccine doses have been sold in bilateral deals to rich countries and only a small amount was made available to the UN-backed effort to share COVID-19 vaccines fairly.

For its mass inoculation drive, South Africa is relying on the Pfizer vaccine and has purchased 40 million doses, which are arriving in weekly deliveries.

The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine is already being produced in South Africa. Aspen Pharmacare’s factory in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, is making the J&J vaccine in the same “fill and finish” process and has the capacity to make more than 200 million doses of the vaccine annually. The J&J vaccines made in South Africa are also being distributed across the African continent.

South Africa’s vaccination drive is ramping up, with more than 220,000 people getting shots on weekdays. More than 5.5 million of South Africa’s 60 million people have received at least one jab, with more than 1.4 million fully vaccinated, according to official figures on Wednesday.

South Africa’s goal is to vaccinate about 67 per cent of its population by February 2022.

Vaccination levels are low across Africa, with less than two per cent of the continent’s population of 1.3 billion having received at least one shot, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To help alleviate the vaccine shortage on the continent, the US is delivering in the coming weeks the first batches of 25 million doses of vaccines it is sharing with the African Union.

Senegal, Burkina Faso and Gambia have received about 151,200 doses of the Janssen jab as part of a first delivery that will be increased in the coming weeks. Ethiopia and Djibouti are also receiving doses.

Gayle Smith, the US Global COVID-19 response coordinator, said the US is working with African partners to move the vaccines out as quickly as possible.

“We are doing this with no strings attached,” she said. “We want to see Africa defeat this pandemic. We want to see Africa be resilient and thrive.”

Currently, Africa is 99 per cent dependent on imports for its vaccines, she said. The US is investing in both South Africa and Senegal to help increase the speed and ability of Africa to produce its own vaccines, she said.

Senegal, the European Union and the US recently signed an investment agreement to build a new vaccine manufacturing plant in Dakar, which will lead to the production of COVID-19 vaccines in Senegal.