African Countries Serious About Improving Local Vaccine Production
African countries will be hosting a conference in April to discuss the local production of vaccines.

IBADAN – African countries are hosting a large conference in April to discuss the local production of vaccines, as key players in Africa’s public health sector try to address the continent’s vaccine shortages.

Circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution had necessitated this conversation, William Kwabena Ampofo, Chairperson of African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, said during a press conference on Thursday. The conference will take place on 12 and 13 April.

Currently, many African countries are getting most of their COVID-19 vaccines through the global distribution platform, COVAX.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic presents a great opportunity to harness the various conversations and proposals into an action-oriented roadmap led by the African Union and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa. And this will lead to increased vaccine production that will facilitate immunization of childhood diseases and enable us to control outbreaks of highly infectious pathogens,” he said. 

William Kwabena Ampofo, Chairperson of African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative.

However, he admitted that Africa only has about 10 vaccine manufacturers based in 5 countries – South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal – and most were only doing packaging, labelling and filling, rather than the actual production of the vaccine. But Africa has about 80 companies with pharmaceutical production capacity and the manufacturing of sterile injectables, which provided a great opportunity, added Ampofo.

“In Africa, we usually use a primary dosage form, so there is the opportunity to really consider vaccine manufacturing as a major activity that will provide substantial financial returns to the various countries in the different economic blocs if the vaccine supply and chain is well structured,” Ampofo said.

African Health Leaders and Scientist Advocating for Local Production of COVID Vaccines

Even though the COVAX Facility has promised African countries and other beneficiaries 20% of their respective COVID-19 vaccine needs, many more doses are required to achieve herd immunity. 

In addition, Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong said citizens may need booster shots if the protection offered by the vaccine wears off. These are among the reasons why Africa’s public health leaders and scientists are advocating for the continent to be able to produce the COVID-19 vaccines. Beyond COVID-19, Africa heavily relies on UNICEF and the global alliance, Gavi, for its yellow fever and other vaccines. But there are problems ahead. The biggest, Ampofo said, is the way the market is structured. Addressing this will require active involvement of organisational blocs such as the AU.

“We need the regional economic blocs to take care of a very strategic view of how the countries are interdependent. So that production would be geared towards supplying not just a country but meeting regional needs and establishing a system which sustains vaccine production on the continent,” he said.

Covering Ground

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

While the local vaccination plans and discussions are continuing, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said the continent is rapidly gaining back lost grounds due to the late arrival of doses of the vaccines. 

“Compared with countries in other regions that accessed vaccines much earlier, the initial rollout phase in some African countries has reached a far higher number of people,” Moeti said.

She attributed the development to Africa’s vast experience in mass vaccination campaigns and the determination of its leaders and people to effectively curb COVID-19.

According to the WHO, two weeks after receiving COVAX-funded AstraZeneca vaccines, Ghana has administered more than 420,000 doses and covered over 60% of the targeted population in the first phase in the Greater Accra region – the hardest hit by the pandemic. In the first nine days, it is estimated the country delivered doses to around 90% of health workers. 

In Morocco, WHO said more than 5.6 million vaccinations have taken place in the past seven weeks, while in Angola, vaccines have reached over 49 000 people, including more than 28 000 health workers in the past week. 

“While the rollout is going well, there is an urgent need for more doses as Ghana, Rwanda and other countries are on the brink of running dry,” Moeti said.

Image Credits: Johnson & Johnson, African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, Paul Adepoju.

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