Public/Global Health

BioNTech planning modular factories to boost vaccine production in Africa

AP-Matt Rourke

BioNTech announced on Wednesday that it plans to create manufacturing facilities in Africa in order to bolster the company’s ability to provide more essential medicines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.   

Today’s milestone brings us one step closer to our goal of improving healthcare by making our innovations accessible worldwide,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in the company’s statement on Wednesday.

Pending approval from local regulators, BioNTech will aim to begin producing up to 50 million doses of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine that it made with Pfizer within the year in Africa. 

The first shipment of materials necessary to make the company’s vaccine will be sent to either Senegal or Rwanda. The company produced 1.2 billion doses in Marburg, Germany, last year, according to The Associated Press.  

But the company has garnered criticism, especially from advocates of vaccine equity in poorer countries, for refusing to suspend vaccine patents and allow more competitors to manufacture the vaccine, the AP reported. 

The company has cited the difficulty of making mRNA vaccines, saying that local partnerships are BioNTech’s preferred way to maintain the consistency and quality of their vaccines globally, according to the wire service. 

“Even collaborating with world-class companies, it takes three to four months just to ensure that the fill and finish (know-how) is transferred,” Sahin said, the AP added. “And we have, of course, a limited capacity to do the full technology transfer.”

In Africa, roughly 11 percent of people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to the worldwide averages of nearly 50 percent.  

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the WHO will push for a vaccination rate of 70 percent for every country by mid-2022.

Tedros has pushed for global vaccine equity, saying the pandemic will worsen “if we don’t improve our collective response.”


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