When fully operational, the companies said annual vaccine production will exceed 100 million doses, to be distributed exclusively in African countries.
In a statement, the companies said they have signed a letter of intent with the Biovac Institute in Cape Town to transfer technology, install equipment and develop manufacturing capabilities. The raw material for the vaccines will be transported from Europe and the first doses will be produced in 2022.
Vaccination rates in Africa remain extremely low, with just over 20 million full doses of vaccine administered to a population of over 1.3 billion, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO ), which indicate that only 1.5% of the population has been fully immunized. Several countries including Mali, Niger and Ethiopia have administered virtually no dose per 100 people.
The vaccine’s deployment on the continent has been hampered by a shortage of doses, much of which is provided by the COVAX global vaccine distribution initiative. Many of those doses were supposed to come from the Serum Institute of India, but exports have been suspended amid the disastrous second wave of Covid-19 in India and will not restart until the end of the year.
Countries like South Sudan and Kenya are either running out of jabs or on the verge of running out, as cases rise across the continent. Last week, the WHO announced that countries in Africa had recorded a 43% week-over-week increase in Covid-19 deaths.
South Africa, where Pfizer / BioNTech will manufacture the much needed doses, is currently in the throes of a deadly third wave triggered by the Delta variant. The country entered a strict lockdown at the end of June but has recorded 63,000 deaths from Covid-19 during the pandemic, with current levels of more than 300 deaths per day.