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COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech and Biovac “fill and finish” deal is step in right direction but much more needed to support vaccine independence in Africa

21 July 2021 – Pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer (US) and BioNTech (Germany) announced today a collaboration with Biovac (South Africa), the only Southern African human vaccines manufacturer, to “fill and finish”* and distribute COVID-19 mRNA vaccine doses within the African Union.

Lara Dovifat, Campaign Manager, MSF Access Campaign:

“While MSF acknowledges Pfizer-BioNTech’s ‘fill and finish’ agreement as a first step, this is clearly not enough to achieve vaccine independence on the African continent. Instead of sharing their vaccine technology with the newly established World Health Organization (WHO) mRNA technology transfer hub hosted in South Africa, which could boost production globally by capable manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech opted for yet another bilateral, restrictive deal.

The agreement fails to share Pfizer-BioNTech's technology and know-how to independently manufacture vaccines, and instead requires Biovac to remain dependent on drug substance from Pfizer-BioNTech's European facilities. For regions left behind in the vaccine race to be self sufficient, they need access to all of the components of vaccine production, from the starting production steps through to manufacturing and packaging. MSF therefore calls for urgent full technology transfer to support independent and sustainable vaccine production and supply of mRNA vaccines on the African continent, which could be a gamechanger for equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines.

We also call on the governments that have massively funded the development and production of these mRNA vaccines through the public purse – such as Germany – to use their influence with BioNTech and Pfizer to demand more from these companies.

In addition, the agreement between Pfizer-BioNTech and Biovac must be made public as soon as possible, for full transparency.”

Candice Sehoma, Access Campaign Advocacy Officer, MSF South Africa:

“As we face a deadly ‘third wave’ of COVID-19 in South Africa and massive vaccine inequity across Africa, what we need is urgent sharing of lifesaving mRNA vaccine technology and knowledge with multiple manufacturers, including in African countries, to have adequate production and supply of vaccines. Africa has been all but left behind – only 1.6% of the people vaccinated worldwide are in African nations.

Currently, several manufacturers on the African continent could produce an mRNA vaccine if sufficient technology transfer were to happen and necessary support provided. Setting up a production capacity of up to 100 million doses annually of Pfizer-BioNTech's mRNA vaccine in an existing facility in Africa could be achieved in less than 10 months and cost less than US$20 million.

The bilateral deal announced today fails to mobilise the full capacity on the continent and globally. Pfizer-BioNTech should stop following a piecemeal approach and widely share its technology and know-how to help alleviate this deadly imbalance of vaccine access.”

*Fill and finish: Process of filling vials with the vaccine substance in a sterile environment, conducting quality control, and sealing, labelling and packaging the final products for distribution.

Media contact: Shailly Gupta, shailly.gupta@geneva.msf.org, +41 79 203 13 02

About Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign

In 1999, in the wake of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, MSF launched the Access Campaign. Its purpose has been to push for access to, and the development of life-saving and life prolonging medicines, diagnostic tests and vaccines for patients in MSF programmes and beyond.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign
Rue de Lausanne 78
P.O Box 1016
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Switzerland