27 October 2021 -- Pharmaceutical corporation BioNTech (Germany) signed yesterday a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Rwandan Government, Senegal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Senegal-based manufacturer Institut Pasteur de Dakar, to initiate the construction of an mRNA Vaccine Manufacturing Facility in Africa in mid-2022, bypassing the World Health Organization's (WHO) mRNA vaccine tech transfer hub in South Africa.
Despite months of pressure from MSF, civil society and patient advocacy groups, it is concerning that the recent BioNTech announcement, made on the sidelines of the ongoing AU-EU ministerial meeting in Kigali, does not address the need to share technologies with capable manufacturers worldwide. While BioNTech aims to build an additional production facility in a region with very little capacity, this does not appear to bring much needed autonomous production and supply to the African continent, where countries import 99% of the vaccines they use, or global diversity in production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
Over and above engaging in the lengthy process of building a new facility, BioNTech should directly transfer its technology to the existing WHO mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa. The WHO mRNA Hub exists precisely to link up the needed technology to produce mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 with manufacturers that have existing production capacity and are ready and able to start producing and, assist in the technology transfer process.
Candice Sehoma, South Africa Advocacy Officer, MSF Access Campaign:
"BioNTech's MoU with the governments of Senegal and Rwanda should not undermine, but rather find potential synergies with the WHO mRNA Hub's mandate. While investigating options to build new mRNA manufacturing capacity in Rwanda and Senegal, BioNTech must share its technology with the WHO COVID-19 mRNA Hub immediately, to help end the pandemic. The WHO mRNA Hub has a global remit and could efficiently transfer the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines technology to manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries both on the African continent and beyond, in a timely manner.
"The choice of South Africa as the host country for the WHO mRNA Hub was the result of tremendous technical and political efforts from all parties involved. It is therefore reasonable to expect that African institutions and governments should lend full and unconditional support to the hub including when bilaterally negotiating with corporations that have consistently refused to share their technology with the WHO mRNA Hub.
"Moreover, as no details were shared about the signed MoU between the Rwandan and Senegalese government, Institut Pasteur de Dakar and BioNTech, questions remain, such as how intellectual property is going to be managed, what kind of mRNA vaccines are going to be produced in the new facility, or where the produced vaccines could be sold beyond the African continent. Furthermore, the communiqué appears to indicate that the initial staffing would come from BioNTech's headquarters, which is unacceptable considering an African expert workforce already exists as part of the Hub and should be involved in the process from the onset.
"BioNTech received hundreds of millions of Euros of public funding to develop this vaccine, and therefore should be accountable and make the MoU as well as other funding and manufacturing contracts available for public scrutiny."
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