BioNTech to send mobile covid-19 vaccine laboratories to

The growing inequality between vaccines around the world has affected the poorer countries the most, especially the African countries. In an attempt to bridge the gap, Germany’s BioNTech, the developers of the first mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 together with Pfizer, announced plans to send mobile vaccine production units to Africa.

“The question was, can we make the process compact enough to fit in a container,” BioNTech CEO and co-founder Uğur Şahin told Agence France-Presse (AFP) when the company unveiled the new laboratories, called “BioNTainers.”

BioNTech said it aims to establish the “first production facility in the African Union” in “mid-2022” and expects to send the modular production units to Rwanda and / or Senegal.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall attended the Vaccine Equity for Africa meeting at BioNTech’s mRNA production facility in Marburg, Germany, together with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and World Health Organization (WHO) Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, German Development Minister Svenja Schulze, Head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr John Nkengasong, Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, President of BioNTech Uğur Şahin and President of the African Union and Senegal Macky Sall presents so-called “BioNTainer”, a system for producing vaccines in Africa, during a presentation in Marburg, Germany, February 16, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

“The modular system opens up new perspectives for global vaccine allocation,” said Kagame.

Tedros said it was “necessary” to increase local production, especially as more than 100 countries around the world have failed to achieve the 70% vaccination rate that the WHO had aimed for by the middle of this year.

Africa is the least vaccinated continent in the world – more than two years after the start of the pandemic and more than a year after the launch of the first coronavirus vaccines, less than 12% of Africans have been fully vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the South African biotechnology company Biologics announced that it had produced the continent’s first coronavirus vaccine based on mRNA technology using the genetic code made available to another mRNA vaccine manufacturer, Moderna.

Şahin said that BioNTech, which developed its vaccine with the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, has sold tens of millions of the shot and aims to “install production sites for our mRNA technology on all continents.”

So-called “BioNtainers”, a container-based production line of mRNA-based vaccines from the German company BioNTech, are pictured at the company’s factory in Marburg, Germany, February 11, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

Careful production process

South Africa could “potentially” join the list of recipients of the mobile labs, BioNTech said.

The total of 12 units, each consisting of two modules – one for the production of mRNA and the other for the vaccine serum – and local partners then take over the filling of the bottles.

The manufacturing process involves about 50,000 steps and each step must be followed carefully.

But the containers overcome this challenge by having “the process pre-validated” before they are installed, Şahin explained.

It usually takes about three years to build a new factory. But with the mobile devices, the first doses will be ready after 12 months, Şahin said.

So-called “BioNtainers”, a container-based production line of mRNA-based vaccines from the German company BioNTech, are pictured at the company’s factory in Marburg, Germany, February 11, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

The containers could also be used to produce vaccines that fight malaria based on mRNA technology. However, the condition comes after clinical trials have begun this year.

BioNTech employees will operate the containers, to begin with, while training local employees “to transfer the site in the medium or long term,” according to the statement.

The vaccine technology will be shared without patent waiver, as requested by a number of countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“Patents are not the key. When we install the technology and hand it over to a partner, they will also be licensed to operate it,” Şahin said, adding that BioNTech would guarantee “responsible use.”

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