SA’s Biovac begins production of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in early 2022

After receiving the drug substance from Europe, South Africa’s Biovac Institute will begin manufacturing Pfizer-(PFE.N), BioNTech’s (22UAy.DE) COVID-19 vaccine early next year, according to a Pfizer executive.

Biovac’s July “fill and finish” arrangement with Pfizer will make it one of the only companies producing COVID-19 shots in Africa, where many countries have struggled to get enough doses during the pandemic.

“By the end of this year, we aim to have the Cape Town facility integrated into our supply chain,” Patrick van der Loo, Pfizer’s regional president for Africa and the Middle East, said during a symposium on vaccine manufacturing in Africa in Kigali.

“Biovac will get the drug material from European facilities, and finished dose manufacture will begin early in 2022,” he said via video link.

Large Western pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, have been condemned for failing to do enough to help other countries produce vaccines.

In July, Pfizer’s CEO urged WTO members not to support a waiver of some intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, as proposed by South Africa and India.

The transaction between Biovac and Pfizer covers the last phases of manufacturing, when the vaccine is processed and packaged into vials, but not the intellectual property that underpins the vaccine.

Van der Loo outlined historical challenges faced by pharmaceutical companies on the continent, claiming that these accounted for the difficulties in launching local vaccine manufacturing.

Among them were intermittent power and water supplies, which have long been a problem in South Africa.

“Last year… water was rationed, which made it very difficult both practically and ethically to obtain and use large quantities of water for trial runs through the equipment as part of our start-up tech transfer phase,” he explained, referring to Biovac operations.