Senegal aims to make COVID vaccines next year, a boost for Africa

2021-06-06 12:32:45
Senegal aims to make COVID vaccines next year, a boost for Africa

Senegal could begin producing coronavirus vaccines next year aimed at boosting Africa's drug-manufacturing capabilities, according to a report by Reuters.

As wealthy countries begin to lift restrictions after vaccinating many of their citizens, African nations are still struggling to acquire Covid-19 shots.

Only about 7 million have been fully vaccinated in Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion.

The collaboration between Senegal and with Belgian biotech group Univercells underscores Africa’s determination to produce more of the vaccines it requires.

Univercells announced the signing of a letter of intent for collaboration with the Institut Pasteur in Senegal's capital Dakar in April. Under the agreement, Senegal would use vaccine production technology to supply COVID-19 vaccine shots to countries across West Africa.

Institut Pasteur would initially begin packaging and distributing vaccines produced by Univercells in Belgium early next year, the source involved in securing financing for the collaboration told Reuters.

Univercells would transfer its full production line to Senegal in the second half of 2022, the source said, adding that the company would train local staff so they could eventually run the operation.

Institut Pasteur director Amadou Sall declined to comment on the timeline or size of the project but said the facility was working with donors to secure financial backing.

"There is a lot of political will, I am optimistic. But it is not about momentum, it is about creating a real opportunity," he said.

It is not clear yet what vaccine will be supplied to Senegal, but Antrobus said the site in Belgium would be able to manufacture a class of so-called viral vector COVID-19 vaccine such as those developed by Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Russia's Sputnik V and China's Cansino.

Senegal's Institut Pasteur is the only facility in Africa currently producing a vaccine - a yellow fever shot - that is pre-qualified by the World Health Organization, which requires manufacturers to meet strict international standards.

Pre-qualification allows facilities to supply to major buyers like the U.N. children's agency UNICEF.

Africa's struggles to secure vaccine supplies exposed its vulnerability to health crises and pushed governments to find ways to boost medicine and vaccine production.

Those efforts are now gaining traction with wealthy countries.

South Africa's Biovac Institute told Reuters it has been in touch with the French and German governments and pharmaceutical companies with an aim to produce 30 million COVID-19 vaccines annually.

South African company, Aspen Pharmacare, is already producing shots of the J&J vaccine locally.

Africa's $1.3 billion vaccine market could rise to as high as $5.4 billion by 2030 because of population growth and the availability of new vaccines, U.S.-based consultancy McKinsey and Company said in an April report.

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