Kenya plans to set up vaccine factory in six months

Thursday October 21 2021
Kemsa warehouse in Nairobi.

A Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) depot in Embakasi, Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Elizabeth Merab

Kenya plans to set up a vaccine production plant in Nairobi’s Embakasi in the next six months.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday said the firm, known as Kenya Biovax Limited, will help address access to vaccines in the country.

“The Ministry of Health should operationalise this company to manufacture vaccines in our country by Easter next year,” he said during his Mashujaa Day (heroes) address.

The Easter holidays will be marked on April 15 to 17.

According to the National Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan, Kenya aims to have fully-fledged vaccine manufacturing capability by 2024. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of vaccine manufacturing facilities in Kenya and other African countries, leaving the continent vulnerable to vaccine shortages. So far, only about one percent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated against coronavirus.


Packaging and distribution

Kenya Biovax is expected to be a fill-and-finish factory, where vials will be filled with vaccines and packaged for distribution. In the pharmaceutical industry, many drug makers use third parties for this final process of manufacturing. Such facilities package ready-made vaccines and distribute them.

The Nairobi facility will be built at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) depot in Embakasi. The plant will also produce other vaccines such as polio drops, the Ministry of Health said.

Vaccine ingredients will be imported in bulk. At the new plant, the vaccines will be produced, sealed in vials, labelled and distributed.

In May, the Health ministry said talks were underway with the Oxford AstraZeneca manufacturers to import large quantities for repackaging in vials. The negotiations are almost complete, the authorities say.

Kemsa Kitengela depot was overlooked as a suitable site for the plant as the area is densely populated, the ministry said.

Vaccines deployment taskforce chairman Willis Akhwale said: “We have gone for what we call the APIs, which is the active pharmaceutical ingredients. We have identified a partner, and we are now in nondisclosure, which is why a lot of information is unavailable. We need to sign first.”