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BioNTech looks into making jabs in Rwanda, Senegal

August 27, 2021

The makers of the successful COVID-19 jab want to boost Africa's capability for vaccine production. The continent currently imports 99% of its vaccines.

A health professional prepares the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine solution for injection
BioNTech mRNA techniques could soon provide a new solution to stop malariaImage: Fabian Sommer/dpa/picture alliance

BioNTech could start producing malaria and tuberculosis vaccines in Rwanda and Senegal, the company said after the presidents of the two African countries met with with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin in Berlin on Thursday.

The German pharma giant is developing malaria and tuberculosis jabs based on the same mRNA technology used to make in-demand COVID-19 shots, BioNTech said.

At the Berlin meeting with Sahin and Ursula von der Leyen, Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Senegal's Macky Sall discussed setting up facilities to use this technology in Africa, which currently imports 99% of its vaccines and is limited to a yellow fever inoculation producer in Senegal.

New vaccines thanks to COVID-19 profits

BioNTech announced in July it would start developing malaria and tuberculosis vaccines with the first phase funded from profits gained by the global sale of its COVID-19 vaccine.

Fighting malaria in Uganda the organic way

"Our goal is to develop vaccines in Africa and to build sustainable vaccine production capacities for vaccines in Africa in order to jointly improve medical care," Sahin explained.

BioNTech would choose sites close to World Health Organisation (WHO) vaccine distribution centers, the company said.

Malaria is an airborne virus carried by mosquitoes that affects around 200 million people worldwide, the majority in Africa. Children under five-years-old accounted for 67% of over 400,000 deaths in 2019, according to the WHO.

Why are vaccine producers expanding to Africa?

The WHO recently criticized vaccine-makers for not having COVID-19 jab production capability in Africa and thus increasing vaccine inequality.

As a result, Pfizer and BioNTech reached a deal with labs in South Africa and Senegal to bottle imported batches of its  coronavirus jab.

The European Union, African Union Health Organization and recently formed African Medicines Agency are all western companies to produce more vaccines on the African continent.

A close-up of a mosquito biting a human
Mosquitoes are the main spreaders of malaria in Africa, a disease that kills 400,000 people each yearImage: dpa/picture alliance

"We are more than grateful to be part of the joint efforts of the Eradicate Malaria project," said Sahin. "Together with our partners, we will do whatever it takes to develop a safe and effective mRNA-based malaria vaccine that will prevent the disease, reduce mortality and ensure a sustainable solution for the African continent and other regions affected by this disease.

The company's efforts will include "significant investments in vaccine development, the establishment of manufacturing facilities, and the transfer of manufacturing expertise to production sites on the African continent and wherever else it is needed," Sahin added.

jc/dj (Reuters, dpa)