Moderna plans African vaccine plant

Moderna plans to invest up to $500 million to build a factory in Africa to make up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year, including its COVID-19 shot, as pressure grows on the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture drugs on the continent.

African countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been urging drug makers for months to set up vaccine plants on the continent to help it secure supplies of COVID-19 shots that have been hovered up by wealthier nations.

As of Thursday, only about 4.5 per cent of Africans had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the continent’s top public health official, Dr John Nkengasong.

Moderna’s (MRNA.O) proposed site is expected to include drug substance manufacturing as well as bottling and packaging capabilities. The U.S. drug maker said it would begin the process of deciding the country and location soon.

“We expect to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional products within our mRNA vaccine portfolio at this facility,” Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said in a statement.

Dr Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had not seen the Moderna statement and the company had not consulted with him.

At a news conference, he welcomed any efforts to address the continent’s medium- to long-term needs, but said Moderna’s plans would not solve its problems securing doses now.

The move comes as a debate rages between drug makers and governments about waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and give more developing countries access to shots. 

The United States said it would support a waiver, but the idea has faced opposition from pharmaceutical firms, which argue they need to oversee any technology transfer due to the complexity of the manufacturing process.

Potential candidates to host Moderna’s African plant include South Africa, Rwanda and Senegal, health experts say, although a senior South African official involved in a drive to boost local vaccine manufacturing said he wasn’t aware of the Moderna announcement. South Africa’s health department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Pfizer (PFE.N) and its partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE), struck a deal in July for South Africa’s Biovac to help make around 100 million doses a year of their COVID-19 vaccine for Africa. -Reuters

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