According to the companies, annual vaccine production would exceed 100 million doses and be sold exclusively in African countries.
In a statement, the companies announced that they have signed a letter of intent with the Biovac Institute in Cape Town to transfer technology, install equipment and develop manufacturing capabilities. The raw material for the vaccines will be transported from Europe and the first doses will be produced in 2022.
Vaccination rates across Africa remain extremely low, with just over 20 million full doses given to a population of over 1.3 billion, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) which says only 1.5% of the population is complete are vaccinated. Several countries, including Mali, Niger, and Ethiopia, have barely administered doses per 100 people.
The announcement met with a positive response. “It’s great and welcome news to celebrate in the context of this pandemic as every action counts. I see this as part of the joint action on technology transfer and intellectual property,” said John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Control and disease prevention, said CNN.
There have been constant calls from countries like India and South Africa to forego intellectual property rights to vaccine technology – part of the ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
The introduction of vaccines to the continent has been plagued by a shortage of doses, much of which is being supplied by the global vaccine distribution initiative COVAX. Many of these doses were supposed to come from the Serum Institute of India, but exports have been suspended amid the catastrophic second wave of Covid-19 in India and will not resume until later this year. Countries like South Sudan and Kenya are either running out of jabs or nearly exhausted as cases rise across the continent. Last week the WHO announced that countries in Africa had seen a 43% increase in Covid-19 deaths weekly. South Africa, where Pfizer / BioNTech will manufacture the much-needed cans, is currently in a fatal third wave triggered by the Delta variant. The country was strictly under lockdown in late June but has recorded 63,000 Covid-19 deaths over the course of the pandemic, with currently more than 300 deaths a day.