Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. File Picture: AFP
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. File Picture: AFP

US shares 25 million Covid-19 vaccine doses with Africa to reach herd immunity target

By Xolile Bhengu Time of article published Jul 21, 2021

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DURBAN - The US yesterday announced that it would be sharing approximately 25 million Covid-19 vaccine doses with the AU to enhance coverage across the African continent.

This would contribute to the AU herd immunity target of vaccinating at least 60% of the African population. It said this was a close collaboration between African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (Avat), Covax, and the US government.

The first shipments of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine would be delivered to Burkina Faso, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. It said in total 49 African countries would benefit from the donation in the coming weeks.

The shipments of these donated doses follow US President Biden’s May 2021 pledge to share 80 million doses from the US supply globally.

The news comes as it was announced that global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has partnered with Cape Town’s Biovac Institute on an estimated shared cost R200 million expansion deal for the production of the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine in the next six months.

The Biovac exclusive production deal will enable it to produce 100 million doses a year of the mRNA vaccine for distribution within 55 AU member states.

Biovac is a vaccine producer and public-private partnership between the South African government and the pharmaceutical private sector. The mRNA vaccine teaches your body how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response, without using a live virus.

After you get an mRNA vaccine, your body makes antibodies that help fight the infection if a virus enters your body. The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine that requires two shots, 21 days apart.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the AU champion on Covid-19, welcomed the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 mRNA local manufacture announcement, calling it a breakthrough in the protection of African nations against Covid-19.

“Today’s agreement will contribute significantly to health security and sustainability on our continent, which currently has the least access to vaccination in the world.”

“The partnership between Biovac and Pfizer is a breakthrough in our effort to overcome global vaccine inequity. The protection of Africans is a necessary and critical contribution to the protection of humanity as a whole. This partnership demonstrates what we can achieve when the state sector and the private sector craft a shared vision and pool resources for the greater good of society,” said Ramaphosa.

Biovac said it would immediately embark on technological transfer activities that included on-site development and equipment installation for the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccines.

Adding that the facility will be brought into the Pfizer-BioNtech supply chain by the end of 2021. Biovac will obtain the drug substances needed from BioNTech’s facilities in Germany.

BioNTech is a German biotechnology company based in Mainz that develops and manufactures active immunotherapies for patient specific approaches to the treatment of diseases.

Strive Masiyiwa, AU Special Envoy on Covid-19 and member of the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, joined Ramaphosa in welcoming the Biovac-Pfizer initiative.

“The only way to guarantee Africa’s access to vaccines now and in the future is through this type of strategic manufacturing partnerships, which we welcome greatly.”

US Department Co-ordinator for Global Covid Response and Health Security Gayle Smith said the country which was monitoring and supporting the South African government’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out campaign was pleased with achievements so far, and was advising the country on ensuring that other vaccine programmes were not being neglected.

“We are eager to make sure regular vaccines keep going in SA. At a time of a global crisis, it is good to focus on ending the Covid-19 pandemic everywhere in the world. We will not win the fight against Covid-19 if we don't ensure that everyone has access to the vaccine.”

THE MERCURY

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