Moderna Says It Will Build a Vaccine Factory in Africa

The American drug manufacturer said it would spend up to $500 million to establish a new facility. Officials and activists pointed to more immediate needs.,

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Moderna says it will build a vaccine factory in Africa, but that will take time.

Medical personnel briefing people waiting for Covid vaccination last month outside Gqeberha, South Africa.Credit…Jerome Delay/Associated Press

By Lynsey Chutel

Oct. 7, 2021Updated 1:58 p.m. ET

JOHANNESBURG — Moderna said on Thursday that it planned to build a vaccine manufacturing facility in Africa, news that was welcomed for the long-term but that does not address the continent’s immediate need for Covid-19 vaccines.

The company said that a new “state of the art” facility would eventually produce up to 500 million doses a year of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine, which has shown an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent in preventing Covid-19. The plant will, in time, also produce other Moderna vaccines, the company said.

However, Moderna gave no time frame, and said it was only now beginning the process of identifying which country would host the plant.

Building vaccine manufacturing sites in Africa will increase the continent’s future access to the drugs. But that does not answer calls from African leaders and activists to waive patent laws that would give more drugmakers access to details on how coronavirus vaccines are produced. It also does not address the continent’s immediate Covid-19 vaccine shortages.

“It doesn’t necessarily solve our problems today,” Dr. John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a regular news briefing on Thursday. “The problems we have are quick access to vaccines, redistribution of vaccines, making sure that certain licenses are provided so that manufacturing can start regionally.”

Moderna’s announcement comes amid mounting pressure on biotech firms to share their expertise with manufacturers in countries that desperately need more coronavirus vaccine doses.

The drug makers Pfizer and BioNTech said in July that they had partnered with Biovac, a public-private partnership pharmaceutical company in Cape Town. In Gqeberha, the South African coastal city formerly known as Port Elizabeth, Johnson & Johnson has partnered with Aspen, a local manufacturer, in a fill-and-finish manufacturing process.

Moderna said that it expected to invest up to $500 million in its future site, and that its facility would manufacture the doses with fill-and-finish capacity, in addition to packaging facilities.

“While we are still working to increase capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines for the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future,” said Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive.

African leaders had already established the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing, which works within an existing “ecosystem” of Africa’s vaccine needs. Launched in April, it has political backing from the continent’s leaders, including Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

Moderna, an American drug company, developed its coronavirus vaccine with billions of dollars in taxpayer money and received initial research and development funding from Covax, the vaccine sharing facility supported by the global vaccine alliance Gavi and the World Health Organization.

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