Published on : 23/02/2021 – 09:08
In Africa, the slowness in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is reviving the debate on the need to produce them on site. Only a handful of African companies have the required skills. Among them, the South African institute Biovac, which says it is ready to take up the challenge.
For several months, Biovac has been communicating regularly on ongoing discussions with laboratories holding Covid-19 vaccines. President Ramaphosa even relayed these intentions. The company estimates that once a deal is reached, twelve months of preparation will be enough to produce around 30 million doses per year, barely enough to treat half of South Africa’s population. Meanwhile, Aspen, another local lab, announces it will manufacture 300 million doses on behalf of Johnson & Johnson.
What to relativize, even to shower the ambitions of the first?
But they don’t have quite the same goals. The production of Aspen, a listed company, is not intended for South Africa, it will remain under the control of the American principal, which has also caused a great controversy. To put an end to it, Aspen will reserve a few million doses for local populations. Biovac, in which the State is a 47% shareholder, wants to create a sector to serve South Africa. It is already the privileged interlocutor of the public authorities. He was responsible for receiving, storing and distributing Astra Zeneca vaccines. Indeed, since the authorities abandoned it because it was ineffective against the South African variant, the company keeps it at low temperature and seeks to transmit it to the countries concerned.
Biovac already has experience in the development of vaccines for children
The French Sanofi granted it a license to produce Hexaxim, its cocktail of six childhood vaccinations. The American Pfizer has also just transmitted the technology of the vaccine against pneumococcus. The components are imported in bulk and assembled on site and then packaged. Biovac does not yet master the first step, the most delicate, that of the production of active ingredients and adjuvants.
So the company is not in a position to participate in the anti-covid campaign?
The boss of Biovac, Morena Makhoana, says that his biggest difficulty is not the know-how but the choice of the right vaccine, capable of reacting well to the variants of the coronavirus. To achieve its ambitions, it will have to invest in new production capacities. Morena Makhoana estimates he needs $ 200 million to produce a billion doses. Finding that money is a challenge in Africa, but not an insurmountable obstacle. On the other hand, finding clients as hurried and silver as those who support the activity of the big Western laboratories, is much more complicated. Strictly speaking, there is no vaccine market in Africa today. The request is largely covered by donations from WHO, Unicef or the Gavi alliance. Support from the South African state through long-term tenders could help the company, the Biovac boss suggested. In this difficult environment, he is giving himself ten years to become a full player in this industry.
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