Pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Pfizer has announced it has struck a deal with South African bio-pharmaceutical company Biovac Institute, 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.
Through the partnership, 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. It will be the first facility in the Southern Hemisphere to use the messenger RNA technology underlying the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, among others.
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.
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 been fully vaccinated according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.
Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said: “This collaboration is another example of our commitment, from day one, to provide fair and equitable access to the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to everyone, everywhere. This commitment has been our North Star, and this agreement is just one example of the tireless work being done to expand access, in this instance to benefit Africa.”
To bridge the gap, the World Health Organization announced in late June it would establish a mRNA technology transfer hub in Cape Town with Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines Ltd. and Biovac. The WHO said at the time that it was in talks with potential partners that developed mRNA-based shots to work with the companies to produce them. Afrigen is also partially state-owned.
Pfizer and BioNTech will help get Biovac ready to make their Covid-19 vaccine. The technical transfer, on-site development and equipment installation will begin immediately, they said in a statement.
Biovac will not produce the vaccine’s main ingredient but instead will acquire it from facilities in Europe. It will begin packaging the vaccine in sterile vials and delivering them in 2022.
In a statement, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, welcomed the announcement of the partnership saying: “This collaboration recognizes the talent and technology that exists on our continent that can be harnessed in our irreversible march of sustainable and inclusive development.”