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Continent ramps up vaccine production as G20 countries fail to join international distribution plan

Vaccine nationalism, supercharged by fears of the Omicron variant, pushes African countries towards local manufacturing

The indefinite postponement of the World Trade Organization's meeting on a temporary waiver of the intellectual property rights on Covid vaccines, and the emergence of the Omicron variant appear to have pushed African leaders to move faster on continental production. About 7.5% of people in Africa have been vaccinated so far (AC Dispatches 24/08/21, Health activists lambast plan to export South African-bottled vaccines to Europe).

The African Union has announced the launch of the Partnership for African Vaccines Manufacturing (Pavm) to enable manufacturing of up to 60% of the continent's vaccine requirements by 2040, alongside 12 Covid-19 production facilities set up or in the pipeline across six African countries.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced plans to set up a fill-finish vaccine plant known as Kenya Biovax Limited in the next six months.

That push appears to have been given fresh momentum by the international response to the discovery of the Omicron variant and continued delays in vaccine delivery. The promise of direct supply agreements with Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca has also taken much longer to negotiate than expected (AC Vol 62 No 24, Jab race hits new snag).

In June the WHO enlisted a team of South African researchers to create an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine following Moderna and Pfizer's refusal to share their patent. Outgoing head of the African Centers for Disease Control, John Nkengasong told journalists on 9 December that India's Serum Institute had added to distribution problems by withdrawing from negotiations to supply Africa.

However, agreements have also been struck with BioNTech to establish vaccination production facilities in Senegal and Rwanda, as well as South Africa.

On Monday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa launched another attack on western nations' handling of the pandemic, again accusing them of having hoarded vaccines and arguing that the new bans on travellers from a group of mainly southern African countries defied scientific logic.

'You ask yourself, where is science? They always said to us, base your decisions in science, but when the moment comes for them to be more scientific, they are not,' said Ramaphosa at a conference in Dakar.

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