Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE said Wednesday that their Covid-19 vaccine will be partly produced in South Africa from next year, joining a halting effort to manufacture shots on a continent that has been left behind in the global fight against the pandemic.
The deal—under which the Cape Town-based Biovac Institute will fill vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and ready them for shipment—follows growing pressure from the U.S., Europe and international organizations for drugmakers to do more to tackle global inequities in accessing Covid-19 shots. They said Biovac will deliver more than 100 million doses annually once its plant is fully operational next year.
This spring, the U.S. said it would back a proposal led by South Africa and India to suspend protections on intellectual property underlying Covid-19 vaccines to widen production, especially in developing countries. The initiative is vehemently opposed by most big drugmakers, including Pfizer.
Just 1.5% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, after rich countries bought up much of this year’s supply of the shots and deliveries from the World Health Organization-backed Covax program, which many developing countries counted on to inoculate their most at-risk citizens, fell far behind schedule. That has left much of the continent with few defenses as the more transmissible Delta variant drives a record surge of infections.
African officials say that one of the main reasons that they have struggled to secure Covid-19 shots is the lack of manufacturing facilities on the continent. Many governments, including the U.S. and the world’s biggest vaccine maker, India, have restricted exports of shots as they race to inoculate their own populations.