Kenya now says Moderna's $500 million (Ksh57.5 billion) vaccine plant will have a crucial role to play in the fight against other diseases beyond the Covid-19 pandemic amid a global glut of coronavirus vaccines.
The comments come amid a reported global vaccine oversupply that has crept up across a world once desperate for immunisation against the coronavirus, raising fears of the viability of Covid-19 plants in the pipeline.
But health Cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe said vaccine plants in the Kenya pipeline including the Moderna’s would also produce other vaccines. Therefore, the Covid-19 vaccines glut would not affect the construction plans.
"They will make vaccines..not just Covid ones," Mr Kagwe told the Business Daily.
Mr Kagwe ruled out concerns that the production glut of Covid-19 vaccines could derail Kenya's and the rest of Africa's plan to build vaccine plants.
"No," [we don't see this happening]," he said.
Moderna said earlier in March it expects to invest about $500 million (Ksh57.5 billion) in the Kenyan vaccines manufacturing facility and supply as many as 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines to the African continent each year.
The American biotechnology giant also had plans to start filling doses of its Covid vaccine in Africa as early as 2023, following the deal with the Kenyan government.
Moderna told the Business Daily on Friday "the plant is expected to be intended for mRNA therapeutics and vaccines versus being specific to Covid-19".
"We’ve entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Government of the Republic of Kenya to build a state-of-the-art mRNA facility in Africa — the intention would be for this plant to produce mRNA vaccines, including but not limited to Covid-19 vaccines," said Moderna on email.
Moderna has been developing several other vaccines based on mRNA technology, including for respiratory syncytial virus, HIV and shingles.
Vaccine makers invested in massive production capacity over the past year and some of that has come online only after most countries covered much of their populations with two doses.
The global adjustment to living with the virus — with the exception of Covid Zero-practising China and Hong Kong — has also diluted the urgency for booster shots, according to analysts.
The Institute of India Ltd, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and a key supplier of Covid-19 inoculations to developing countries, last month said it had halted making fresh batches of Covid shots after its stockpile grew to 200 million doses amid a global supply glut, it said.
The Indian company manufactures the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University, as well as the shot from Novovax Inc.
Several countries across Africa have eased pandemic-linked restrictions and relaxed rules related to masking and quarantines, even as cases rise in some regions in the rest of the world.
Kenya plans to vaccinate 27.8 million Kenyans and has been acquiring doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson to supplement the Astrazeneca vaccines.
However, the vaccination initiative has been slowed down by the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
Kenya lifted Covid-19 measures, including the wearing of face masks in public, after sustaining less than one percent case rate for months.