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Are BioNTech laboratories really coming to Rwanda & Senegal?

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 1 September 2021 18:29

Cipharm laboratory and drug production plant, near Abidjan, 9 October 2013. Nabil Zorkot for Jeune Afrique

The German laboratory BioNTech will examine the possibility of producing vaccines in Rwanda and Senegal. What can we expect?

A meeting was held on 27 August in Berlin on the sidelines of the G20 ‘Compact with Africa’ summit, which was organised by Germany. Around the negotiating table were, among others, Rwandan and Senegalese Presidents Paul Kagame and Macky Sall as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Uğur Şahin, BioNTech’s co-founder and president.

In a statement, BioNTech announced “the potential implementation of manufacturing solutions in Rwanda and Senegal.” The Rwandan and Senegalese presidents both welcomed this decision on social media, with Kagame describing it as “a turning point in vaccine equity.”

Translation of Tweet below: Today, I participated in the briefing organised by the KENUP foundation, in partnership with the Biontech laboratory, centred around the production of the vaccine by African countries, including Senegal and Rwanda. I welcome this great initiative, which is supported by our Team Europe partners.

 

However, it should be noted that BioNTech has not made any concrete plans yet.

The messenger RNA vaccines referred to in the press release are still in the research stage and the laboratory expects to launch clinical trials next year. In addition, BioNTech has so far only “agreed (…) to evaluate the establishment of sustainable vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Rwanda and Senegal.”

For the time being, only the South African company Biovac has confirmed that it will be producing vaccines. However, it will only be concerned with filling and finishing the vaccine that BioNTech and Pfizer designed against Covid-19. We contacted the German laboratory to ask about its plans for Rwanda and Senegal, but it was not immediately available to answer our questions.

Shocking imbalance

So far, the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech has only been sending vaccines. More than 100,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines were sent as part of the Covax initiative in March 2021 to Rwanda, which became the first country on the continent to receive the German-US vaccine. These doses were primarily for health care workers and people considered to be at risk. According to the latest data from the US John Hopkins University, 3.8% of the Rwandan population has received two doses of the vaccine.

Senegal has mainly received doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which were sent by France and the UK, among others. About 3.5% of its population is fully vaccinated.

Earlier this year, BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer had committed to supplying 40 million doses of vaccine to 92 ‘low- and middle-income’ countries as part of the international Covax initiative.

On 24 August, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, denounced “a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines.” According to the WHO, in 2019, 25% of new cases of tuberculosis were recorded in sub-Saharan Africa (in Nigeria and South Africa in particular), while this figure was at 94% for malaria.

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