Pfizer and BioNTech have said they struck a deal with South Africa-based company Biovac for the production of COVID-19 vaccines for the African Union (AU).
In a statement published on Wednesday, the two companies said Cape Town-based Biovac will complete the last step in the manufacturing process, known as “fill and finish”, of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.
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“To facilitate Biovac’s involvement in the process, technical transfer, on-site development and equipment installation activities will begin immediately,” read the statement.
Ingredients to produce the jabs will arrive from plants based in Europe, while the manufacturing of finished doses will start in 2022, it added.
The companies expect that at “full operation capacity” the annual production of Biovac will hit 100 million doses per year – which will be distributed among the AU member states.
The announcement of the partnership came amid growing calls to tackle a striking gap in global vaccine distribution. Just 1.5 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, compared with 43.7 percent in the European Union and nearly 50 percent in the United States, according to Our World in Data.
Unequal distribution has been a source of debate for months at the World Trade Organization as developing countries, headed by India and South Africa, have been pushing a proposal to temporarily lift intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines to boost global manufacturing capacity.
Without IP, among other issues, manufacturing companies would not risk being sued for producing jabs without a licence from the vaccine-maker company.
But the proposal, submitted in October and supported by the majority of the WTO’s members, has been opposed by a handful of wealthy countries that claim such a waiver would hamper technological innovation.
Last month, the World Health Organization said it was setting up a hub, or training facility, in South Africa to give companies there the know-how and licences to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
Biovac was one of the initial participants in the hub. It has been a partner of Pfizer since 2015 to manufacture and distribute its Prevenar 13 pneumonia vaccine.