Growing inequality in vaccines across the world has affected the poorest countries most, especially Africans countries. In an attempt to bridge the gap, Germany’s BioNTech, the developers of the first mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 together with Pfizer, announced this plans to send mobile vaccine production units to Africa.
“The question was, can we make the process compact enough to fit in a container”, the managing director and co-founder of BioNTech, Uğur Şahin, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) as the company unveiled the new laboratories, dubbed “BioNTainers”.
BioNTech said it aims to establish the “first manufacturing plant in the African Union” in “mid-2022” and plans to ship the modular production units to Rwanda and/or Senegal.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and son Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall attended the Vaccine Equity for Africa meeting at the BioNTech mRNA production site in Marburg, Germany, along with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The modular system opens up new points sight for global vaccine equity,” Kagame said.
Tedros said boosting local production was “essential”, especially as more over 100 countries in the world have failed to get vaccinated rate of 70% WHO had targeted for the middle of this year.
Africa is the least vaccinated continent in the world – more more than two years after the start of the pandemic and more one year after deployment of the first coronavirus vaccines, less than 12% of Africans have been fully vaccinated.
Earlier this month, South African biotech company Biologics announced he had produced the continent first based on coronavirus vaccine on mRNA technology using the genetic code that another mRNA vaccine maker, Moderna, had made publicly available.
Şahin told BioNTech, which developed son vaccine with The American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has sold dozens of them of millions of shooting and aimed at “install production sites for our mRNA technology in all continents.”
Careful manufacturing process
South Africa could “potentially” join the list of recipients of the mobile laboratories, said BioNTech.
the total 12 units each consisting of two modules – one for the production of mRNA and the other for the vaccine serum – and the local partners then take charge of the filling of the vials.
The manufacturing process involves some 50,000 steps and each must be followed meticulously.
But containers overcome that challenge by having “the process pre-validated” before they were installed, Şahin explained.
Normally, it takes about three years to build a new plant. However, using the mobile units, the first the doses will be ready after 12 months, Şahin said.
The containers could also be used to produce vaccines that fight based on malaria on mRNA technology. However, the authorization will come after the clinical trials begin this year.
BioNTech employees will operate the containers, to begin withtout by training local employees “in the main over the website in medium or longterm”, according to the press release.
The vaccine technology will be shared without protection waiver of patents, as requested by a number of countries and non-governmental organization (NGO).
“Patents are not key. when we install the technology and put it back over to a partner they go also obtain the license to operate it,” Şahin said, adding that BioNTech would provide the “responsible use.”