Moderna is Urged to Work Through African Partnership to Set up mRNA Facility
Moderna’s clinical development manufacturing facility in the US.

Moderna should work through the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) if it wants to invest in vaccine production on the continent, according to the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The company announced on Thursday that it plans to invest $500-million in a “state-of-the-art mRNA facility” in Africa that can produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines each year.

Moderna says that wants the new facility to include drug substance manufacturing, fill and finish and packaging capabilities, but it has neither chosen a country nor committed to a timeline.

Africa CDC Executive Director Dr John Nkengasong said while the announcement was “very much welcome”, he had not seen the company’s media release or been informed about Moderna’s plans. 

Urging the manufacturer to work “very closely” with his organisation, Nkengasong added that the Africa CDC did not “tell manufacturers where to go to produce their vaccines”, but could help to facilitate their plans.

“We have a Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), which has a political backing, and our wish and hope is that Moderna works with that group, which looks at vaccine manufacturing in Africa from an ecosystem perspective, from the whole of Africa approach,” Nkengasong told a media briefing on Thursday.

“About 10 countries in Africa have expressed an interest in vaccine manufacturing. We can actually bring them all together and put Moderna at the centre of that to discuss and ask all the questions that will really speak to the need to be transparent, and also to be cooperative and coordinate our efforts,” said Nkengasong.

He stressed that Moderna’s plan would offer relief in the middle- to long-term, but it would not solve Africa’s pressing issues related to COVID-19. These he listed as “quick access to vaccines, redistribution of vaccines, and making sure that certain licences are provided so that manufacturing can start”.

Less than 5% of Africans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and the continent has been desperately trying to buy vaccines via the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) in the face of massive inequity in access to vaccines.

‘Only the beginning’

Announcing its plans, Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s Chief Executive Officer, said that the company viewed its COVID-19 work as “only just beginning”.

“We are determined to extend Moderna’s societal impact through the investment in a state-of-the-art mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa,” said Bancel.

“While we are still working to increase capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines for the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future. We expect to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional products within our mRNA vaccine portfolio at this facility.”

However, there is speculation that part of Moderna’s motivation for making the announcement is because it is under pressure to increase production from the US government, which has invested over $8-billion in its vaccine, according to a report in Politico

Some of Moderna’s clients (extract from COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard).

US President Joe Biden has pledged to donate a billion vaccines to low and middle-income countries in a bid to end the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of 2022, and US government officials have reportedly had tense exchanges with Moderna officials about it not scaling up production.

Moderna is also under pressure from health activists as it has almost exclusively supplied high- and middle-income countries with its vaccines via bilateral agreements. According to the COVID-19 vaccines market dashboard compiled by UNICEF, Botswana is the only African country that Moderna has supplied with COVID-19 vaccines.

However, it has undertaken to supply 35 million doses to COVAX in May.

Moderna had not responded to questions by the time of publication.


Image Credits: Moderna.

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