2024 is a watershed year for Africa’s burgeoning vaccine manufacturing sector, a beacon of hope in a continent long reliant on imports for its healthcare needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency for regional health security, spurring an unprecedented drive since 2020 to establish a robust vaccine production capability within Africa. This year represents a critical juncture, a chance to transform foundational efforts into tangible results through strategic financing, policy reform, and cohesive action among stakeholders.
Advocacy for Africa’s potential as a global vaccine production hub has gained significant momentum. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), through its Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), aspires to achieve 60% self-sufficiency in local vaccine use by 2040. This ambitious yet attainable goal underscores the vital steps necessary for realisation.
BioNTech aims to start mRNA vaccine output in Rwanda
Simultaneously, the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI), a network of manufacturers, has broadened its role, engaging more deeply with multilateral partners and championing the industry’s interests. For example, BioNTech aims to start mRNA vaccine output in Rwanda in 2025. Additionally, the recent surge in bilateral technology transfer agreements and infrastructural investments with local African producers marks a notable shift in the landscape.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is playing a role in supporting vaccine manufacturing in Africa by providing financial assistance to governments and businesses involved in the effort. For example, the IMF provided $100 million to Ghana to support the establishment of a vaccine manufacturing facility in the country. The IMF has already worked with African governments to develop harmonised standards and regulations for vaccine manufacturing and provides technical assistance to African governments and businesses on vaccine manufacturing.
Moderna, BioNTech, and the Serum Institute of India (SII) plan to establish vaccine manufacturing facilities in various African countries in 2024. These facilities will initially produce COVID-19 vaccines, but they also have the potential to produce other essential vaccines, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the polio vaccine specifically for African populations.
However, sustaining this growth trajectory beyond 2023 necessitates immediate action in three critical areas.
First, ensuring predictable vaccine demand and procurement from African governments is essential. This certainty enables manufacturers to plan effectively and achieve economies of scale. A continental pooled purchasing agreement could guarantee the requisite offtake, providing much-needed stability.
Secondly, a significant increase in financing is crucial. This funding could come from donors, lenders, and public budgets, which are essential to spur ongoing projects and innovation. Initiatives proposed by entities like the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the African Union are critical starting points that must be actualised. The plans from the combined efforts of SII, Moderna and BioNTech must be maintained and not left to be a ‘health-washing’ exercise.
Lastly, a streamlined and efficient regulatory framework is vital for expediting vaccine development and approval processes. Strengthening national regulatory agencies and fostering an integrated system are underway, with the imminent launch of the African Medicines Agency poised to enhance coordination across the continent.
Thus, 2024 emerges as a pivotal year, a unique opportunity for tangible progress if all parties commit to a shared vision of long-term, sustainable success. The groundwork laid by pioneers has brought the dream of African vaccine independence closer to reality. The key to unlocking this potential lies in decisive actions and implementing mechanisms ready for utilisation by Africa’s emerging vaccine enterprises.
The Stakes are High
The stakes are high, with continental health security and economic growth hanging in the balance. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the risks of dependency on external supply chains. At the same time, a burgeoning pool of local talent in pharmaceutical sciences and biotechnology is eager to address regional health challenges. Decisions made in the next year will determine the pace at which these health and economic benefits can be integrated into the broader economy.
As we face a steady rise in infectious diseases, Africa stands at a crossroads in 2024. It has the opportunity to establish a world-class, integrated vaccine industry that serves its needs and those of the global community. This pivotal moment calls for bold leadership and unwavering commitment. We are at the threshold of a unique opportunity and must mobilise our collective resolve to leverage it effectively. The dawn of Africa’s era of health autonomy and leadership is within grasp, contingent on the essential roles played by key actors.