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News24.com | BioNTech to start building its African vaccine plant in mid-2022

(Photo by Deaan Vivier/Beeld/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

(Photo by Deaan Vivier/Beeld/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

BioNTech SE said it plans to start construction on its first start-to-finish vaccine plant in Africa in the middle of next year, aiming to build a manufacturing network that would eventually supply hundreds of millions of doses to the continent.

The German company said it’s developing the plans with the governments of Rwanda and Senegal, and initially the factory will have annual capacity of 50 million messenger RNA vaccine doses. The location hasn’t been decided yet, and the company didn’t announce a timeline for completion.

The news comes as Moderna said on Tuesday it agreed to sell as many as 110 million doses of its Covid-19 shot to the African Union following months of pressure, though most of the shipments won’t arrive until the second quarter of next year. The purchase was made possible by the US government giving up its place in the supply queue, African Union coronavirus envoy Strive Masiyiwa said at a briefing.

"This is a breakthrough for us," Masiyiwa said. "None of the suppliers had vaccines for us for this year."

The moves follow a coronavirus immunisation rollout that has seen Africa lag far behind rich nations that rushed to sign abundant supply deals. Only 5% of Africa’s roughly 1.4 billion people are fully vaccinated, while the likes of the US and the UK start to distribute booster shots.

Moderna earlier this month said it would spend as much as $500 million to build a factory in Africa that could produce half a billion mRNA vaccine doses a year. 

Both the Moderna and BioNTech factories may be completed too late to have much impact on the Covid-19 pandemic. They could instead produce other mRNA vaccines once they’re approved. BioNTech is working on an mRNA vaccine for malaria, which kills hundreds of thousands of children in Africa each year.

Pfizer and partner BioNTech announced a separate plan in July for a site in Cape Town, South Africa that would focus on the final stage of the manufacturing process.