Pfizer gives SA a boost as the gateway for rolling out Covid vaccines in Africa
Big pharma company Pfizer is investing R255-million in South Africa to produce the group’s Covid-19 vaccine for distribution in Africa. This was one of the announcements made at the Investment Conference in Sandton and it positions South Africa as a gateway for rolling out the vaccine on the continent.
The investment is a booster shot to South Africa’s ailing manufacturing sector. The move is part of Pfizer’s partnership with the Biovac Institute.
“The R255-million is an added investment to the more than R600-million that we already put into that partnership,” Pfizer’s regional president for Africa and the Middle East, Patrick van der Loo, told Business Maverick in an interview.
The facility in Cape Town’s initial focus has been to produce the pneumococcal vaccine, which has been shown to significantly reduce deaths in children under the age of five.
“We have been working with Biovac to get the site up and running so we can start manufacturing the pneumococcal vaccine, between one and three million doses annually. It is really to vaccinate children as part of the expanded programme for immunisation in South Africa,” Van der Loo said.
The Covid-19 vaccine will now also be produced at the site.
“This is one of the two sites outside the normal multinational company network chosen to manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine. This investment specifically is for the expansion to allow the manufacture of over 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa,” Van der Loo told Business Maverick.
“It’s for exclusive use of the member states in the AU. These doses are for the AU member states manufactured in a high-tech site in SA, which I think is really cool.”
This comes against the backdrop of mounting concerns about the vaccine gap between Africa and the rest of the world – “vaccine apartheid” as it has been dubbed by some. Developed economies have hoarded vaccines or ordered more than required. And big pharma has been accused of hoarding intellectual property which has prevented developing countries from manufacturing vaccines themselves.
According to the Africa CDC portal, just over 15% of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated. In South Africa, the figure is around 30% while in nearly all developed economies the rates are north of 80%.
So Pfizer’s SA latest investment is also a shot in the arm for Africa’s sluggish vaccination drive. A cynic might say this has been tardy compared to the blistering pace of the development of the Covid vaccines. But this is also clearly a case of better late than never. DM/BM