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Africa on a healthy track with local vaccine development

BIOVAC Institute plays a critical role in South Africa’s economy. It is the only southern African human vaccine manufacturer and ensures that the country has the domestic capacity to respond to both local and regional vaccine needs.

BIOVAC Institute plays a critical role in South Africa’s economy. It is the only southern African human vaccine manufacturer and ensures that the country has the domestic capacity to respond to both local and regional vaccine needs.

Published Jun 20, 2022

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Local vaccine development would boost the South African economy and lesson the reliance on foreign trade, according to African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI).

Patrick Tippoo, AVMI’s executive director, said the local manufacture of vaccines had alleviated South Africa’s dependence on foreign imports and ensured an adequate supply of essential vaccines for the South African people.

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An exceptional collaborative efforts between the South African Department of Health and private entities such as the Biovac Institute had been instrumental in supplying as many as 15 million vaccine doses annually to South Africa, including its initial focus of producing pneumococcal conjugate vaccines 9.

In 2015, the Biovac Institute entered into a partnership with Pfizer to further improve access to essential vaccines by manufacturing an innovative 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in South Africa, replacing the earlier 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

Biovac Institute plays a critical role in South Africa’s economy. It is the only southern African human vaccine manufacturer and ensures that the country has the domestic capacity to respond to both local and regional vaccine needs.

Tippoo said the institute had become a significant contributor to South Africa’s economy, adding as much as R500 million per year and investing more than R800m in infrastructure and skills development initiatives.

“It also provided employment opportunities in the industry, increasing its employee base from 30 to over 320 since 2003,” he said.

AVMI said the vaccine manufacturing and production industry in Africa was given an additional boost last year when the African Union established the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing.

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The initiative will enable the African vaccine manufacturing industry to develop, produce and supply more than 60 percent of the total vaccine doses required by the continent by 2040, with South Africa being a major contributor to this.

This would lead to increased vaccine development investment initiatives in not only South Africa, but Africa, and boost health security, economic development as well as leading to cost reductions from otherwise imported vaccines.

Tippoo said this would also lead to reduced reliance on foreign trade and reduced supply chain disruptions.“

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“Most notably, substantial economic stimulation will see a higher gross domestic product , increased investments and intra-continental trade, and much-needed job creation opportunities. Research indicates that more than 12 500 vaccine-related job roles can be created by 2040 on the continent, up from only 3 000 at present. Furthermore, it has the potential to see an additional 33 000 jobs being created indirectly by industry suppliers,” he said.

Tippoo said to further support vaccine manufacturing on the African continent and to ensure that South Africa retained its place as a major contributor to vaccine development, Pfizer announced earlier this year at the South African Investment Conference that a further R255m would be invested in 2022-bolstering the already R600m the company had added to its partnership with the Biovac Institute.

In a article written by David Richard Walwyn University of Pretoria’s Research Matters, said manufacturing vaccines locally established a strategic capability in a sector, which was prone to shortages and price fluctuations that had often had severe consequences for public health.

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Walwyn said vaccines were supplied into a global market from a relatively small number of sites. Manufacturing problems, mostly linked to issues of quality and safety, occur and not infrequently affected the supply of vaccines to lower value markets.

In South Africa the vaccines that form part of the extended programme on immunisation vaccines were a big budget item for the National and Provincial Departments of Health.

He said when the Biovac Institute was established the annual cost of vaccines was only R188 million. This cost had since grown to R1.75 billion. Hexaxim accounted for 37 percent of the expenditure. About 3 million doses of the vaccine were procured each year. These were imported directly by the Biovac Institute in single vials and then distributed to the clinics and hospitals.

“Being able to manufacture these doses locally using imported antigens will enable Biovac to achieve, at least in part, one of its core objectives: to “ensure a domestic capacity in vaccine production that will enable the South African health authorities to respond to disease outbreak emergencies”.

Over the medium term, local manufacture will also save an estimated 15 percent of the cost as compared to international procurement, depending on the actual vaccine and capacity utilisation of the manufacturing facility,” Walwyn said.

He said the local manufacture created jobs, grew the economy and reduced the pressure on foreign exchange.

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