Pfizer said it reached an agreement to start production of its Covid-19 vaccine at a facility in Cape Town in an effort to deliver more than 100 million doses annually to African nations. Pfizer and its German vaccine partner, BioNTech SE, said Wednesday they signed a letter of intent with Biovac Institute, a company partially owned by the South African government, to manufacture the shots.
The companies expect to bring Biovac’s Cape Town-based facility into the fold of their broader coronavirus vaccine supply chain by the end of 2021, and to begin producing finished doses in 2022.
At full capacity, Biovac is expected to produce more than 100 million doses per year, all of which would be distributed to the more than 50 member states of the African Union. The financial terms of the agreement, announced ahead of a World Trade Organization summit, weren’t disclosed.
With the addition of Biovac’s site, which will focus on filling the vaccine’s active ingredient into sterile vials, Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine supply chain now spans 20 facilities across three continents.
To date, the companies have shipped more than 1 billion doses of the two-dose regimen to more than 100 countries or territories, including South Africa. Pfizer and BioNTech aim to deliver a total of 3 billion doses in 2021, and 4 billion doses in 2022.
Still, the global coronavirus immunization campaign has been plagued by unequal access to vaccines, spanning from the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to those made by Moderna Inc., AstraZeneca Plc, Johnson & Johnson and others from China and Russia.
Africa remains the world’s least-vaccinated continent, and many of its nations are battling a third wave of infections with little access to shots. Before March, few African nations had received a single shipment. Even in South Africa, where Biovac is based, only 5.4% of the population has yet been fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.
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This follows the unrest in KZN where shops were looted, buildings were burnt and roads were blocked by people who were demanding that former president Jacob Zuma be released from jail. Learn more