Pharmaceutical firm Moderna plans to build a vaccine factory in Africa that will cost as much as $500 million, according to a press release from the company early Thursday. Moderna will soon start the process of site selection on the continent and it’s already been narrowed down to about five unnamed countries, according to Bloomberg News.
Moderna was founded in 2010, which makes it a relatively new pharma company, but has found tremendous success with its covid-19 vaccine, churning out roughly 500 million doses worldwide. The company’s vaccine platform uses mRNA technology, similar to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“After a decade of pioneering the development of our mRNA platform, we have been humbled to play a critical role in combating the covid-19 pandemic globally with our mRNA vaccine. We view Moderna’s work as only just beginning,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement.
“On behalf of our growing team, partners and shareholders, we are determined to extend Moderna’s societal impact through the investment in a state-of-the-art mRNA manufacturing facility in Africa,” Bancel said.
But building a huge factory is no small endeavor, and it will be years before the vaccine facility has any doses rolling off the line. Depressingly, covid-19 will likely become endemic in the world during the next few years, leaving the need for plenty of booster doses even if the entire world gets vaccinated against the disease. But Moderna isn’t just planning on using the factory for pushing out covid-19 vaccines.
“While we are still working to increase capacity in our current network to deliver vaccines for the ongoing pandemic in 2022, we believe it is important to invest in the future. We expect to manufacture our covid-19 vaccine as well as additional products within our mRNA vaccine portfolio at this facility,” Bancel said.
Moderna’s has at least 20 vaccine candidates in the pipeline, according to a press release from the company, “including vaccines against respiratory viruses, vaccines against latent viruses, and vaccines against threats to global public health.”
As Bloomberg News points out, Pfizer and BioNTech also have their eyes on Africa as a location for new facilities, with a plan to start packaging doses in South Africa in the near future.
Many countries are finally starting to heed the World Health Organization’s warnings and realize that the covid-19 pandemic won’t really end until low-income countries are able to get their populations vaccinated at the same rates as wealthy countries. But that’s an enormous task ahead.
Less than 5% of people in Africa have been vaccinated against covid-19, according to the latest figures from the New York Times, and just 7% have received at least one dose. Compare that with Europe where 57% of the population has received at least one dose and the Asia-Pacific where 55% have received at least one dose.
The U.S. has fully vaccinated 56% of its population, while 65% have received at least one dose, according to the New York Times.