The African Union (AU) has announced the launch of a partnership to manufacture vaccines at five research centres to be built on the continent in the coming 15 years. The continent seeks to be able to manufacture 60 percent of its vaccines by 2040.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the African Union Commission Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding to boost African vaccine research and development as well as manufacturing.
According to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the five centres will be set up over the next 10-15 years. They will be located in the north, south, east, west, and central parts of Africa.
‘Step in the right direction’
Almost all the vaccines used on the African continent are imported, with only one per cent, representing some 12 million doses, manufactured in African countries, according to Africa CDC and the African Union bloc.
“The production of vaccine and access to vaccine is an absolute necessity for our continent,” said African Union head Moussa Faki Mahamat, outlining the need for a “new world health order”.
A few African countries already have centres producing various vaccines, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
Welcoming the news AU envoy Raila Odinga said Africa producing its own vaccines in different places is a great step in the right direction.
“Climate Change is causing new and lethal diseases, so we need to act with speed,” tweeted Mr Odinga.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) helps run the global coronavirus vaccine-sharing programme Covax with the public-private alliance Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Trusted partnership will be critical in advancing the vaccine manufacturing agenda on the continent. The partnership with CEPI symbolises cooperation and collaboration to help respond to infectious disease threats and ensure Africa’s health security,” Dr Nkengasong said on Tuesday at the closing of a two-day virtual meeting.
Africa represents 25 per cent of global vaccine demand with about 1.3 billion doses in the continent annually, 99 per cent of which are imported, said Dr Nkengasong. The continent now seeks to reduce its importation of all vaccines used on the continent from the current 99 per cent to 40 per cent by 2040 as it scales up its local manufacturing capacity to between 20 and 60 per cent within the next 20 years.
“We are aware that it is a challenge,” said Dr Nkengasong, adding: “If Africa does not plan to address its vaccine security needs today, then we are absolutely setting ourselves for failure.”
The two-day high-level meeting held April 12 and 13 to discuss Africa’s vaccine manufacturing (or lack thereof) heard that only two per cent of vaccine clinical trials take place in Africa, and most of those are conducted in just three countries.
Experts said there is need for a global approach to clinical trials to generate additional important data that “cannot be obtained by only conducting studies in the same areas with the same demographics.”
“Together we can strengthen Africa’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to emerging and re-emerging infectious threats. By building regional resilience and strengthening health security on the continent, we can mitigate the disproportionate health and economic impacts that epidemic infectious diseases can have on populations in low and middle-income countries,” said Richard Hatchett, chief executive of CEPI.
Current AU chairperson Felix Tshisekedi said the initiative will require funds, legislative harmonisation and incentives.
He called on the members of the diaspora worldwide “to help strengthen the medicine and vaccine production capacities in Africa”.
Africa has so far been the least affected continent by the Covid-19 pandemic, with 4.3 million cases recorded, including 114,000 deaths. WHO notes that less than two per cent of the 700 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered to date globally have been in Africa, where most countries received vaccines only five weeks ago and in small quantities.
Forty-five African countries have received vaccines, 43 of them have begun vaccinations and nearly 13 million of the 31.6 million doses delivered so far have been administered.
“The pace of vaccine rollout is, however, not uniform, with 93 per cent of the doses given in 10 countries,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.
Increasing the manufacturing capacity for Covid-19 vaccines in Africa could help ensure the continent does not lag behind in vaccinating its population.
Current vaccine producing countries in Africa
Algeria: Institut Pasteur of Algeria produces Rabies vaccine
Egypt: Egy-Vac (Vacsera) produces BCG-T, Tuberculin, Tetanus, typhoid, DTP, and Cholera vaccines
Morocco: Institut Pasteur in Morocco produces BCG, DT, Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, Influenza, and Rabies vaccines
Senegal: Institut Pasteur de Dakar produces Yellow Fever vaccine
South Africa: Biovac produces BCG, Measles, Pneumococcal conj, Hepatitis B, DTP, Polio, Hib and HepB vaccines
South Africa: Aspen Phamarcare produces J&J Covid-19 candidate vaccine
Tunisia: Institut Pasteur de Tunis produces BCG vaccine
Other regions that plan to manufacture vaccines for Africa
Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI), Ethiopia
Innovative Biotech, Nigeria
Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, Nigeria