Medical aid groups are welcoming plans by U.S. drug maker Moderna to build a plant for manufacturing vaccines in Africa. The groups say the plant, the first from a company making a COVID-19 vaccine, will help in fighting vaccine inequality.
African countries are facing a shortfall of nearly 500 million COVID-19 vaccines according to the World Health Organization.
The shortage has left most countries unable to vaccinate even the most vulnerable 10 percent of their populations.
Last week, U.S. drug maker Moderna announced plans to build a plant on the African continent. Its statement is raising hope Africa will have a sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the future.
Medical aid groups say although the plan will boost Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capacity, the continent still needs an immediate solution to shortages. Dr. Githinji Gitahi is the chief executive officer at Amref Health Africa.
“As significant as it is because of the high financial commitment of 500 million dollars, there are several other factors to consider,” said Gitahi. “One, that factory will not be a solution to the current challenge of vaccine access in Africa. If the factory is going to be ready in 2-4 years Africa wants to vaccinate at least 70% of its population by the end of June next year. Therefore, Africa still demands the most important step in redistribution of doses earmarked for rich countries to come into Africa.”
Although Moderna has yet to say where it will build the factory, at least 10 countries, among them Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Senegal, have expressed an interest in hosting the facility.
Dr. Willis Akhwale, the chairman of Kenya’s vaccination task force, says Moderna will need to look at the project as a partnership with the host country.
“If Moderna is coming to open, they should come with an open mind that they are bringing technological transfer, not just setting up a factory,” said Akhwale. “Therefore, they need to transfer that technology to the host country. The other thing is capacity building of the local people beyond just the COVID-19 vaccine towards the whole human vaccine manufacturing.”
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention welcomes the idea of manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine on the continent.
Dr. Bernhards Ogutu, chief research officer at the center’s office in Kenya, says although the process is likely to take a long time, it’s a promising sign for making health care more available in Africa.
“If we really want health care affordable and accessible to all, then we must start doing a lot of production of health commodities in the region,” he said.
By September, an estimated 5.2 billion COVID vaccine doses had been administered globally but only 2 percent of those were in Africa. African medical groups say they hope that the manufacturing of such vaccines on the continent will prevent such unequal distribution in the future