South African president launches vaccine manufacturing plant

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has opened a new vaccine manufacturing plant that he says will boost the country’s ability to make its own inoculations for diseases such as COVID-19.

The Cape Town plant – a partnership between a US-based biotech company, the government and South African universities – will help improve Africa’s ability to produce vaccines, Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.

“The pandemic has exposed the huge disparities that exist within and between countries in access to quality health care, medicines, diagnostics and vaccines,” Ramaphosa said. Africa is responding to COVID-19 with a “depth of scientific knowledge, expertise and capacity”, to manufacture its own vaccines, he said.

The plant was also launched by Patrick Soon-Shiong, the South African founder of NantWorks, a US-based multinational biotechnology company that invested around $200 million to start the facility, according to local reports.

The new factory aims to meet the goal of producing 1 billion vaccines per year by 2025, Soon-Shiong said.

South African company Aspen Pharmacare is already assembling the J&J COVID-19 vaccine at a factory in Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth. The Aspen facility mixes imported components of the vaccine and puts them into vials and packages the doses, a process known as fill-and-finish. This facility has a capacity of 220 million vaccines per year and sells them in South Africa and other African countries.

Another vaccine production plant in South Africa is operated by the Cape Town Biovac Institute in partnership with Pfizer-BioNTech to produce 100 million of its vaccine doses per year.

Ramaphosa said Africa had secured 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the African Union’s Vaccine Acquisition Task Force, but the continent needed more.

“These doses are only about half of what the continent needs to vaccinate 900 million people to meet the 70% target set by the World Health Organization,” Ramaphosa said.

In addition to producing vaccines against COVID-19, the new facility will focus on developing products to fight HIV, different types of cancer and other diseases that may not be a major issue in many countries. other parts of the world but which are major health problems in Africa.

The new facility will help address the public health challenges facing the continent, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who spoke on a video call.

“This pandemic has caught the continent off guard in terms of access to health security commodities, which are diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics,” he said. “The continent has embraced a new public health order, which speaks to the need for us to manufacture vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.”

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