Thanks to a massive financial injection from the European Investment Bank (EIB), a new vaccine facility in Senegal is expected to significantly reduce Africa’s dependence on imported vaccines and support equal access to vaccines.
Ironically, the €75m funding to Institut Pasteur de Dakar comes hard on the heels of the recent announcement that the state-of-the-art Aspen Pharmacare vaccine manufacturing facility in the Eastern Cape has not received a single order from any members of the African Union.
When Aspen completed a deal to package, sell and distribute Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, it was hailed as a game-changing moment for an under-vaccinated continent frustrated by sluggish Western handouts.
But the SA company’s expectations of high demand in Africa, where just a sixth of adults are fully vaccinated, have not materialised, and its CEO warned recently it would be forced to re-purpose about half of its vaccine production capacity if orders did not pick up.
The flagship Gqeberha facility has the capacity to bottle 300m doses of J&J’s vaccine at the plant, but planned to increase this to 450m a year this year, and 700m by January 2023. The eventual aim was to expand vaccine production into shots against other diseases and make as many as 1,3bn vaccine doses a year, Aspen CEO Stephen Saad said at the time.
However, MedicalBrief last week reported (1 June) that in a major blow to Aspen, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its COVID-19 vaccine partner Gavi said they have no immediate plans to buy shots made by Aspen.
Last month, the Bureau of the African Union Heads of State said that global vaccine purchasing bodies like the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) “have shirked their responsibilities in supporting African vaccine-manufacturing initiatives”.
The bureau exerted pressure on Gavi and Covax to prioritise the procurement of vaccines from African producers, and now global pressure is mounting on these organisations, and on the WHO and Unicef, to put their money where their mouths are.
“We cannot keep our manufacturing lines vacant indefinitely,” says Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen executive responsible for strategic trade development.
And as the Aspen site sits idle, the financing for the new Dakar vaccine manufacturing facility of the Institut Pasteur de Dakar “reflects the EIB’s strong involvement in Africa, particularly through its new global initiative bringing together its activities outside the European Union, in close co-operation with the other EU institutions as part of Team Europe”, said the corporation in a press release.
The €75m financing agreement will support the construction of the new MADIBA (Manufacturing in Africa for Disease Immunisation and Building Autonomy) facility, “and help play a key role in scaling up vaccine production capacity to respond to epidemics and endemic diseases in the region”.
The facility includes a manufacturing platform for the production of vaccines against epidemics, a high-volume production site for yellow fever vaccines and a training site for the production of next-generation vaccines.
“The financing will help to significantly increase Africa’s medical and vaccine production capacity to fight COVID-19 and other endemic diseases, thus reducing its dependence on imports, which currently cover 99% of its vaccine needs,” said the EIB.
Once operating at full capacity, up to 300m vaccine doses will be produced annually for the continent, it said.
Last year, the EIB and the EU donated €5m – with other partners – for feasibility studies and project preparation for the Institut de Dakar’s MADIBA project to accelerate the construction of the new vaccine production site.
The EIB has become one of Senegal’s most important development partners, with a total investment of almost €900m since 1966 to improve living conditions in cities and rural communities, boost the economy, and help businesses, small project promoters and society adapt to climate change.
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