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Plans to produce Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine in Cape Town may be scaled back because of waning demand for the shots, according to the head of the company’s South African manufacturing partner. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Plans to produce Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine in Cape Town may be scaled back because of waning demand for the shots, according to the head of the company’s South African manufacturing partner. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Plans to produce Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in Cape Town may be scaled back because of waning demand for the shots, according to the head of the company’s SA manufacturing partner.  

About 100-million doses a year are slated to be packaged and filled at a plant controlled by the BioVac Institute, partly owned by the SA government, which would become the first southern hemisphere facility to use the messenger RNA technology underlying the Pfizer-BioNTech version. 

Yet demand for Covid-19 vaccines has fallen globally as countries start to adapt to the pandemic — even in Africa where vaccination rates are lowest. Aspen Pharmacare, the continent’s biggest drugmaker, said this month that it may close a line to make Johnson & Johnson’s dose in SA due to a lack of orders. 

“As a manufacturer we are concerned about the picture that’s coming through,” Biovac CEO Morena Makhoana said. At the rate things are going it will probably be less than 100-million doses a year, he said. 

Biovac has spent about R300m preparing to make mRNA vaccines and install equipment to keep doses at ultra-cold temperatures. Those upgrades could still be adapted for other shots.

“Certainly, for Biovac it’s a big project,” Makhoana said. “Volume-wise it’s a step change.”

Biovac is now processing about 4-million doses a year of a paediatric vaccine in SA for Sanofi Pasteur and 3-million doses of Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 vaccine, a shot given to children to protect against types of pneumococcal bacteria that can cause serious infections.

“It is becoming increasingly recognised that vaccine supply is no longer the primary challenge impacting vaccinating lower and middle income nations,” Pfizer said in a response to questions. “Country readiness is critical in ensuring that a nation is able to effectively receive, transport and administer the vaccine doses as they arrive.”

Makhoana is hopeful that there will be more demand for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in Africa than for rivals such as the J&J inoculation, especially as Pfizer is seeking to get the dose authorised for children as young as five.

Bloomberg
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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