Three countries in Africa are being considered for regional vaccine production, the World Bank International Finance Corporation has declared. The three states include South Africa, Senegal, and Rwanda where investment towards setting up vaccine production is at an advanced stage.
Why is this necessary now?
When Covid-19 struck the continent and governments rushed to bring in vaccines to manage the global health crisis, the roll out of vaccines within the continent was marred by delays, scarcity and uncertainties.
In Kenya for instance, when the first consignment came in, there was a wave of uncertainty that swept across the country especially because the government could not ascertain the availability of the second dose of the vaccine. However, 358,700 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine have just been received in Nairobi in a bid to help the government administer the vaccines to the population and manage the crisis.
Meanwhile Zimbabwe has run out of vaccines as the Covid-19 crisis continues to bite. In Tanzania, after months of denial of the existence of the virus in the country, the government has now moved to order the Covid-19 vaccines to combat the pandemic as the third wave continues to hit parts of the continent.
Africa is moving with speed to fast-track acquisition of vaccines and address the urgent demand to avoid a third wave.
World Bank and the AU have also partnered to give a boost to the African Union’s target to vaccinate 60 per cent of the continent’s population by 2022, an initiative called Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) with resources to allow countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million people across Africa.
This extraordinary regional effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising Covid-19 cases in the region. World Bank financing is available to support the purchase and deployment of doses secured by AVATT.
David Malpass, World Bank Group President expressed the Bank’s support of the partnership with the African Union to speed up supply of the necessary doses of the Covid-19 vaccines to African countries. ”Working together, we can expedite doses to countries and support deployment. Countries urgently need more pathways for acquiring vaccines that match their needs and have early delivery schedules,” he said.
“As a result of this joint initiative between the World Bank and African institutions such as the Africa Import Export Bank and the Africa Centre for Disease Control, we now have the capacity to vaccinate at least 400 million people, or 30 per cent of our population of 1.3 billion,” said Strive Masiyiwa, African Union Special Envoy and coordinator of the AVATT. “We really appreciate the extraordinary partnership on this initiative between the AU Vaccine Champion, HE President Cyril Ramaphosa and David Malpass, President of the World Bank.”
World Bank says it still has $12 billion in vaccine financing available to help countries purchase and distribute vaccines and address readiness issues. So far, less than10 African manufacturers with vaccine production are spread out in five countries. These include Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. Africa cannot continue to rely on vaccine imports to sustain the rising number of infections as well as to control further spread of the virus.
How does Africa currently get its vaccines?
WHO shows that currently, most African countries are supplied with vaccines by the Vaccine Alliance and UNICEF supported by Gavi. So far, less than 10 countries are self-sufficient in terms of vaccine procurement. This is why vaccine markets are very specific in Africa where more than 1.5 billion doses are supplied through UNICEF. The pandemic therefore, presents a unique opportunity for the continent to gather the resources and invest in the necessary equipment needed to begin production of the vaccines.
To achieve this goal of increasing the manufacturing capacity of vaccines locally, Africa needs to establish a step-by-step approach to scaling vaccine manufacturing, starting with short-term objectives. The short terms goals such as scaling fill and finish manufacturing capacity are important to ensure that the continent is able to achieve this part of production without hitches. It should then move to the medium- to long-term commitments to backward integrate to include drug product and ultimately drug substance manufacturing, all the while noting that investments into upstream capabilities will need to be made in the short-term to establish the necessary skills and capabilities, according to African Union and Africa CDC.
The pandemic has brought with it lessons to be learned, but it also presents opportunities that if taken advantage of, are groundwork to creating a strong basis for vaccine production on the continent with a target of meeting the current demand being experienced. This will enable the continent to be self-reliant. Therefore, having looked at the opportunities the global pandemic has presented, identifying opportunities to scale-up African vaccine manufacturing capabilities is critical to establishing Africa’s health security by developing the capabilities and capacity to respond to current and future pandemics and outbreaks in a more rapid and agile manner.
Universities and research centres from across the continent need to also be tasked with the role of developing workable data that will be used to guide the production of these vaccines once the manufacturing plants have been set up. This will help map out the most ‘on demand’ vaccines as well as project a trend in anticipation of a crisis so that the continent is prepared should another pandemic or health crisis, threaten it.