Moderna plans vaccine factory in Africa as drugmakers urged to help poorest

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A health worker holds a vial of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site operated by SOMOS Community Care during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Manhattan in New York City, New York, United States , January 29, 2021. REUTERS / Mike Segar / File photo

  • Moderna to invest up to $ 500 million in factory, location undecided
  • Company’s COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing plant, other mRNA injections
  • Only 4.5% of Africans fully vaccinated against COVID-19

LONDON, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – Moderna plans to invest up to $ 500 million to build a factory in Africa to manufacture up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year, including its COVID-19 injection , as pressure increases on the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture drugs on the continent.

African countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been urging drugmakers for months to set up vaccine factories on the continent to help it secure supplies of COVID-19 vaccines that have been sucked up by the richest countries.

As of Thursday, only about 4.5% of Africans had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the continent’s top public health official, John Nkengasong.

The site proposed by Moderna (MRNA.O) should include the manufacture of medicinal substances as well as bottling and packaging capacities. The US drug maker said it would begin the country and location decision process soon.

“We plan to manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine as well as additional products within our mRNA vaccine portfolio at this facility,” CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.

Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had not seen Moderna’s statement and the company had not consulted him.

Speaking at a press conference, he welcomed any effort to meet the continent’s medium and long-term needs, but said Moderna’s plans would not solve his problems with securing doses now.

The move comes as a debate rages between drugmakers and governments over relinquishing intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and give more developing countries access vaccines. Read more

The United States has said it will support a waiver, but the idea has met opposition from drug companies, who say they must oversee any technology transfer due to the complexity of the manufacturing process.

POTENTIAL SITES

Potential candidates to host Moderna’s African factory include South Africa, Rwanda and Senegal, health experts say, although a senior South African official involved in a campaign to boost local manufacturing Vaccines said he was not aware of Moderna’s announcement. The South African Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

Pfizer (PFE.N) and its partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE) reached an agreement in July with South African Biovac to help manufacture around 100 million doses per year of their COVID-19 vaccine for Africa. BioNTech said in August that it plans to build production sites for malaria and tuberculosis vaccines using mRNA technology in Rwanda and Senegal. Read more

WHO has tried to persuade Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to join forces with its project for an African technology transfer center. But a senior WHO official told Reuters last month that there had not been much progress in talks with Moderna. Read more

Nkengasong said he hoped Moderna would work with an initiative called Partnerships for Vaccine Manufacturing in Africa launched this year, which examines Africa’s needs at the continental level.

“Ten countries in Africa have expressed interest in making vaccines, (we) can actually bring them all together and put Moderna at the center of that.… That would really demonstrate the need to be transparent and also… to coordinate our efforts, ”he said.

Sweden and Denmark on Wednesday suspended use of Moderna’s vaccine for younger age groups after reports of possible rare cardiovascular side effects and citing data from an unpublished Nordic study. Its shares closed down 9% on Wednesday. Read more

Reporting by Joséphine Mason; edited by David Goodman and Mark Potter

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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