Pfizer and BioNTech have announced that they have signed a letter of intent with The Biovac Institute, a South African biopharmaceutical company, to begin manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine in Africa for distribution exclusively within the continent.
It is expected that Biovac’s Cape Town facility will become fully part of the vaccine supply chain by the end of this year, with the manufacturing of finished doses beginning in 2022. The three companies expect an annual production of 100 million doses that will be distributed among the 55 nations of the African Union. The continent is home to 1.2 billion people.
“From day one, our goal has been to provide fair and equitable access of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to everyone, everywhere,” Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pfizer, said in a statement. “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.”
Currently in Africa, fewer than five doses have been delivered per every 100 people compared to an average of 80 doses per 100 people in high-income countries. The COVAX initiative is working to provide equitable access to hopefully 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 to low-to-middle income countries.
Attempts at waiving the patents for the vaccine and ramping up production have been supported by many nations, including the United States, but the European Union and the United Kingdom have been against it. Pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Moderna have been lobbying for the waiver on patents to be rejected. The World Trade Organization is expected to discuss this in a meeting in November.
In the meantime, the world is seeing an increasing number of cases in a variety of nations both highly vaccinated and with low access to vaccination. Any new infection is another chance for the virus to mutate again, maybe into a variant even more dangerous than the current ones.
"We are experiencing a worsening public health emergency that further threatens lives, livelihoods and a sound global economic recovery. It is definitely worse in places that have very few vaccines, but the pandemic is not over anywhere," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing this week.
Globally there have been 192 million cases of COVID-19, with over 4 million people succumbing to the disease. The actual death toll is probably much higher.