Senegal plans ‘Africa’s first’ Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing hub

The Senegalese government is building the first vaccine manufacturing hub in Africa with the capacity and equipment to produce Covid-19 and other vaccines.

Backed by global partners, the facility will be managed by the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, the only facility authorised by the WHO (World Health Organisation) to produce vaccines on the continent.

The scale of expertise, technology, equipment and funding required to build a vaccine manufacturing plant was previously lacking on the continent, and required large-scale global investment, the CEO of South Africa’s Biovac Institute, which acts as a fill and finish site for imported vaccines, says.

The manufacturing hub is estimated to cost $200m, and will be financed in part by European and US governments and institutions.

Construction is expected to start later this year, with the plant planning to produce 25m vaccine doses a month by the end of 2022, the European Commission said on 9 July.

European development partners, including the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, and others pledged €6.75m ($8m) to “support for the medium- to long-term sustainability of the project,” the development financiers said in a statement. While Germany has pledged a €20m grant through German development bank KfW.

The plant will be run by the Pasteur Institute, who expect a fill and finish site for bottling vaccines to be ready by April 2022, with a vaccine production plant being built in parallel to existing facilities, they said.

The project marks the continent’s first step in developing local manufacturing capabilities, said Germany’s minister for development, Gerd Müller.

“Now, for the first time, the continent has a realistic chance of establishing its own manufacturing facilities.”

Despite making up 14% of the world’s population, the continent accounts for less than 0.1% of the world’s vaccine production, according to the WHO.

The continent relies on the COVAX vaccine sharing scheme for its Covid-19 doses. COVAX’s shipments to the continent, supplied by India’s Serum Institute, have recently been hit by an Indian export ban after a surge of cases in the country.  

The African Union and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) are aiming to have 60% of routine vaccines consumed on the continent produced locally by 2040. The Africa CDC identified Senegal as one of three candidates to serve as a potential vaccine manufacturing hub in Africa.

Which vaccine?

While the Pasteur Institute has not said which vaccine it hopes to produce, it will partner with a Belgian biotech company to build its capacity and for the transfer of vaccine production and manufacturing technology, the European Commission said.

Univercells Technologies, which specialises in viral vector vaccines like the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate, signed a declaration of intent with the Pasteur Institute in April, according to Senegalese newspaper Le Quotidien.

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