German vaccine maker BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved shot against COVID-19 together with Pfizer, unveiled plans Wednesday to establish manufacturing facilities in Africa that would boost the availability of much-needed medicines on the continent.
The modular design presented at a ceremony in Marburg, Germany, consists of shipping containers fitted with the equipment necessary to make the company’s mRNA-based vaccine from start to finish, save for the final step of filling doses into bottles.
BioNTech has been criticized by some campaign groups for refusing to suspend its vaccine patents and let rivals manufacture the shots as part of an effort to make them more widely available, especially in poor countries. The company argues that the process of making mRNA vaccines is difficult and it prefers to work with local partners to ensure consistent quality of the shots worldwide.
The first turnkey facility will be shipped to either Senegal or Rwanda in the second half of this year, BioNTech said. It aims to start production of up to 50 million doses of vaccine a year there within 12 months, pending approval from local regulators.