JOHANNESBURG – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has opened a new vaccine manufacturing facility that he says will boost the country's capacity to make its own inoculations for diseases including COVID-19.
The plant in Cape Town — a partnership between a U.S.-based biotechnology firm, the government and South African universities — will help improve Africa's ability to produce vaccines, Ramaphosa said Wednesday.
“The pandemic has revealed the huge disparities that exist within and between countries in access to quality healthcare, medicines, diagnostics and vaccines," said Ramaphosa. Africa is responding to COVID-19 with a “depth of scientific knowledge, expertise and capacity,” to make its own vaccines, he said.
The factory was also launched by Patrick Soon-Shiong, the South African-born founder of NantWorks, a multinational biotechnology firm based in the United States that has invested about $200 million to start the facility, according to local reports.
The new plant aims to reach a goal of producing 1 billion vaccines annually by 2025, Soon-Shiong said.
South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare already assembles the J&J COVID-19 vaccine in a factory in Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth. The Aspen facility blends the imported components of the vaccine and puts it in vials and packages the doses, a process known as fill-and-finish. That facility has a capacity of 220 million vaccines per year and is selling them in South Africa and to other African countries.
Another vaccine production plant in South Africa is operated by the Biovac Institute in Cape Town in a partnership with Pfizer-BioNTech to produce 100 million of its vaccine doses annually.
Ramaphosa said Africa has secured 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the African Union's vaccine acquisition task team, but the continent needs more.
“These doses represent only around half of what the continent needs to vaccinate 900 million people in order to achieve the 70% target set by the World Health Organization,” said Ramaphosa.
In addition to producing vaccines for COVID-19, the new facility will focus on developing products to fight HIV, different types of cancer and other diseases that may not be a huge problem in other parts of the world but are major health problems in Africa.
The new facility will help address public health challenges confronting the continent, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who spoke on a video call.
“This pandemic caught the continent off guard in terms of access to health security commodities, which are diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics," he said. “The continent has embraced a new public health order, that speaks to the need for us to manufacture vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.”