Biovac to Produce Comirnaty in South Africa

23.07.2021 - As part of a new supply chain partnership, South Africa’s Biovac will produce Pfizer and BioNTech’s Comirnaty-branded Covid-19 vaccine at its Capetown site from the end of 2021, the companies announced this week.

With the agreement, Africa will become the third continent to be part of the Comirnaty supply chain and the German-American duo the second Covid vaccine manufacturer— after Johnson & Johnson – to integrate the continent into its production network, which includes more than 20 sites in North America and Europe.

Biovac will draw drug substance from Pfizer and BioNTech facilities in Europe, and the Capetown plant will handle fill & finish as well as distributing more than 100 million doses annually to the 55-member African Union.

Last March, J&J announced an arrangement with its Durban, South Africa-based CDMO partner Aspen Pharmacare to handle vaccine shipments to the African Union. In mid-June, Aspen reported that specific batches of the J&J vaccine manufactured at its Gqeberha site had to be destroyed due to the risk of isolated material in the drug substance supplied by J&J’s US CDMO partner Emergent. This, it said, had the potential to negatively impact the vaccine rollout across South Africa and Africa.

Emergent’s plant at Baltimore, Maryland, which was ordered closed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after its employees mixed up doses of J&J’s shot with those of AstraZeneca, has not yet reopened.

According to the renowned Johns Hopkins University in the US, 2.3 million cases of Covid-19 have been registered in Africa to date, with 68,000 deaths. Johns Hopkins figures show that only 2.9% of the continent’s estimated population of 1.3 billion has received two doses of Covid vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently said that only 1.5% had been fully vaccinated.

Commenting on the cooperation between the Comirnaty producers and Biovac, Doctors Without Borders said it was a first step but by no means sufficient to reduce Africa’s dependence on other continents in obtaining vaccines. Pfizer and BioNTech are working only with a single partner and that only for fill & Finish, the organization said, while asserting that “many companies in Africa could produce the vaccine themselves” if the companies would only make the technology available.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist