When fully operational, the companies said annual vaccine production would exceed 100 million doses, which would be distributed exclusively within African countries.
In a statement, the companies said they signed a letter of intent with the Biovac Institute in Cape Town to transfer technology, install equipment and develop production capacity. The raw material for the vaccines will be supplied from Europe and the first doses will be produced in 2022.
Vaccination rates in Africa remain extremely low, with just over 20 million full doses of vaccine administered to a population of more than 1.3 billion, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which says only 1.5% of the population is complete. vaccinated. Several countries, including Mali, Niger and Ethiopia, have administered barely any doses per 100 people.
The announcement was received positively. “It is great and welcome news to be celebrated in the context of this pandemic, as every action counts. I see this as part of the collective action to tackle technology transfer and intellectual property,” John Nkengasong, the director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN.
There have been steady calls from countries, including India and South Africa, to relinquish intellectual property rights to vaccine technology – part of ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
Vaccine rollouts across the continent have been plagued by a shortage of doses, much of which is provided by the global vaccine distribution initiative COVAX. Many of those doses are said to have come from the Serum Institute of India, but exports were suspended during India’s disastrous second wave of Covid-19 and won’t be restarted until the end of the year.
Countries, including South Sudan and Kenya, have either run out of jabs or are running low as cases are rising across the continent. Last week, the WHO announced that countries in Africa had recorded a week-over-week increase of 43 percent in the number of Covid-19 deaths.
South Africa, where Pfizer/BioNTech will produce much-needed doses, is currently in the throes of a deadly third wave caused by the Delta variant. The country went into strict lockdown at the end of June but has seen 63,000 Covid-19 deaths over the course of the pandemic, with more than 300 deaths a day currently.