The African Union (AU) Coronavirus envoy, Strive Masiyiwa, has called on global pharmaceutical firms to license production of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa rather than just do piecemeal contract deals with governments as the pandemic enters its third wave in the continent.
Masiyiwa gave the charge a day after Pfizer and BioNTech announced a “fill and finish” deal with South Africa’s Biovac Institute under which it will carry out the final stages of vaccine manufacturing where the product is processed and put into vials.
A news report by Reuters indicated that under the deal, Pfizer and BioNTech will handle drug substance production at their facilities in Europe.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has called the arrangement “restrictive” and said much more would be required to support vaccine independence in Africa.
Masiyiwa stressed: “We want to make clear to all suppliers … if you want a long-term future with us now, you produce from Africa.”
In her comments, manager at MSF’s access campaign, which is seeking equitable vaccine access, Lara Dovifat, has also lent her voice in support of the AU envoy’s call, saying that “for regions left behind in the vaccine race to be self- sufficient, they need access to all of the components of vaccine production.”
This is even as the head of the World Health Organization in Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called for local production of vaccines so Africa can tackle future outbreaks, saying at a news conference that “we are looking beyond this crisis.”
Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine is administered through a single shot, also has a “fill and finish” deal with South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare.
According to Masiyiwa, the company is also making arrangement to supply members of the African Union with 400 million vaccine doses by September next year.
The AU envoy further disclosed that around 6 million doses would be delivered to 27 nations that have paid their share through the end of August, with another 18 finalising loans from the World Bank and other global lenders before they make payment.
He explained that deliveries would increase to an average of 10 million a month from September, increasing to 20 million in January until the order is fulfilled by September next year, adding that the
balance of Africa’s vaccine requirements will come from donors, including COVAX.
Despite these supplies, Masiyiwa maintained that local production is the real answer, pointing out that
“if you want land we will give you. If you want to own everything 100%, we don’t mind, just produce from the African continent.”
So far, Africa, which is battling a third wave of infections, has administered just 60 million vaccine doses in a population of 1.3 billion due to restrictions on shipments from vaccine producing nations like India.