The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across Africa has been marred by delays, scarcity, and uncertainty. African countries are waiting for more shipments of doses, as some grapple with spikes in caseloads and overwhelmed health systems. But rigid intellectual property rights and national export restrictions around vaccines and the inputs needed to produce them have led to global shortages in supplies.
In response to calls from health and economic experts across the continent to increase local capacity to manufacture vaccines to bolster Africa’s health security, the African Union launched the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing on Tuesday.
The partnership includes two agreements aimed at boosting the manufacturing of vaccines across the African continent.
Our governments need to step forward and take the initiative, said Donald Kaberuka, African Union special envoy on COVID-19. “What we have seen during this crisis is that international solidarity is very fickle. It is very volatile.”
“Are we serious or not serious? If we are serious, we need to have the political will to do it, and that can only be done if we come together as a continent. Otherwise, that’s just a waste of time.”— Mo Ibrahim, founder, Mo Ibrahim Foundation
The goals of the partnership include a coordinated agenda on vaccine manufacturing for the continent; bolstering of five regional production sites over the next 10 to 15 years; mobilization of financial partnerships; strengthening of regional regulatory systems; increase in technology transfer to manufacturers on the continent; and the development of African universities as premier vaccine research and development hubs.
“There has to be some rethinking of what we ourselves do in Africa,” Kaberuka said.
As part of the framework, the AU signed an agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to strengthen pandemic and outbreak preparedness in Africa; increase investment in vaccine research and development; invest in capacity building and training; strengthen regional laboratories and research hubs, and work to forge new partnerships.
In addition, the African Export-Import Bank signed an agreement with the African Finance Corporation to identify and engage partners on vaccine manufacturing, co-finance transactions and projects, provide preparatory support to project developers, as well as policy support to ease barriers to vaccine manufacturing.
Three countries — South Africa, Senegal, and Rwanda — were identified as potential sites to start exploring building up the capacity to manufacture messenger RNA vaccines — the new technology used in developing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
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The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also held a virtual conference this week to lay the groundwork for establishing a sustainable vaccine manufacturing ecosystem on the continent. While currently, the continent imports 99% of its vaccines, Africa CDC hopes that by 2040, it will produce 60% of its vaccines locally.
“We are fully aware that this will be a challenge. But we are also fully aware that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” said John Nkengasong, director at Africa CDC.
Calls for political ownership over increasing vaccine manufacturing, breaking down of market barriers across national borders, and enhancing coordination across the continent were emphasized during the conference.
“Are we serious or not serious? If we are serious, we need to have the political will to do it, and that can only be done if we come together as a continent. Otherwise, that’s just a waste of time,” said Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.