Low-income countries have faced extremely disproportionate rates of COVID-19 vaccinations in comparison to the world’s higher-income countries. “High-income or upper-middle-income countries” have received more than 87% of the world’s administered vaccines and low-income countries have received only 0.2%. Around the world, more than 700 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered. Reports have stated that 25% of the 700 million doses administered went “into the arms of Americans.” On the other hand, Africa has the lowest vaccination rate of any continent in the world. Only 11% of the entire African continent received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 5% received both doses. With a population of about 1.3 billion, the solution to the continent’s low vaccination rate might be through developing the capacity for COVID-19 vaccine production in Africa.
The U.S. is one of many countries that has offered support for the vaccination effort in Africa. As of November 2021, the U.S. delivered more than 60 million vaccine doses to African countries. Despite outside help, the majority of Africa’s population still remains without their first dose. One source asserts that “a lack of manufacturing is one reason that only 11% of the continent’s people have been fully vaccinated.” So far, 99% of the vaccines distributed in Africa came from outside the continent. With such a low vaccination rate, Africa faces pressures to expand vaccine manufacturing at home. There were many international efforts to help address this challenge. Governments, international organizations and private companies are offering funds and other resources to support the development of COVID-19 vaccine production in Africa.
Funding From the US and Other Countries
In July 2021, The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) approved a $3.3 million grant to help develop “a vaccine production hub that will serve Senegal” and other West African countries. The money is a “technical assistance grant” to Fondation Institut Pasteur de Dakar (IPD), a Senegalese vaccine manufacturer, according to International Development Finance Corporation. The DFC would partner with USAID and “receive [additional] grant financing from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the French development agency, AFD and the European Investment Bank (EIB).” This grant intends to expand the vaccine production capacity of IPD and promote the development of a production hub in the West African region.
In June 2021, the U.S. government partnered with the French and German governments, investing $700 million in Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Limited, South Africa’s largest pharmaceutical company. This investment intends to support the South African company “produce up to 500 million doses” of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by 2022.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the opening of a technology-transfer hub in South Africa in June 2021. It established this hub to support “low- and middle-income countries… produce mRNA vaccines” by providing technical knowledge and other resources, such as “training and financial support.” The establishment of this hub directly aids African countries in obtaining the “necessary human capital” to produce vaccines at home. The technology-transfer hub “is located at Afrigen, Cape Town, South Africa” and the research being used will be shared with local manufacturers. In recent news, researchers at one local manufacturer, Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, have succeeded in producing “very small quantities” of a COVID-19 vaccine “based on Moderna’s data.”
Intellectual Property (IP) Rights
Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines was able to produce its own version of the vaccine after the WHO “advised them to copy Moderna’s vaccine in part because the company… has said it will not enforce its COVID-19 patents during the pandemic.” In accordance with Moderna’s statement, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is reportedly discussing an agreement that would “waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments during the pandemic.” This waiver will be crucial to countries that “lack vaccine manufacturing and research” by providing them with the necessary tools to immunize a greater number of people.
India and South Africa initiated this agreement and it received support from more than 100 countries, including WHO and UNAIDS. If this waiver comes to fruition, it will allow low-income countries with low vaccination rates, like many regions in Africa, to potentially produce their own and distribute a much greater number of doses. As of May 2021, the U.S., Russia and China all issued their support for an intellectual property waiver on COVID-19 vaccines.
Large Pharmaceutical Firms Building Facilities in Africa
In addition, a few large pharmaceutical companies have agreed to build manufacturing plants in different areas of Africa. Companies such as BioNTech and Moderna have made recent strides to support COVID-19 vaccine production in Africa. The German company BioNTech worked with the U.S.-based company Pfizer to produce its mRNA vaccine, and it has announced plans to build vaccine production facilities in Rwanda and Senegal. In March 2022, Moderna signed an agreement with Kenya’s government. The plan is to build a vaccine manufacturing plant in the country, which is to be Moderna’s first plant in Africa. The biotech company also stated that its landmark goal is to “produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines a year” which will go specifically to the continent of Africa.
Investments from the African Development Bank (ADB)
To offer more support for COVID-19 vaccination production in Africa, the African Development Bank announced “plans to invest up to $3 billion to support the pharmaceutical industry over 10 years.” It stated that funds will go towards improving transportation and infrastructure, medicines regulation and pharmaceuticals manufacturing (which includes vaccines). Additionally, African Union member states made a commitment to producing 60% of “routinely used vaccines” at home within the next 20 years.
– Ashley Kim