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In response to the stark inequities concerning global vaccine distribution, Senegal, through its non-profit public utility, Institut Pasteur de Dakar, and in collaboration with German biotechnology company, BioNTech, will establish a Covid-19 vaccine production facility capable of rolling out up to 300 million doses of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines annually.

With a vaccination rate of approximately 11%, and reliant on the importation of 99% of its vaccine needs, Africa will need to develop its own vaccines if the continent is to diminish the inequities between high- and low-income nations and become more self-sufficient in combatting the current, and any future pandemics.

“Africa has been somehow left a little bit behind when it comes to supply of vaccines,” stated Amadou Sall, the Director of Institut Pasteur de Dakar, adding, “The need to make sure that we have control over our supply is something that is critically important in terms of health security. Having a different level of protection in different parts of the world won’t help control and end this pandemic.” 

In addition to the lack of availability in the continent, – with Senegal receiving its first round of vaccines in March 2021, months after its initial availability – rampant misinformation has led to a significant degree of vaccine hesitancy across the continent, with many experts, such as Dr. Ousseynou Badiane, the Director of Senegal’s Expanded Immunization Program, suggesting that local vaccine development could encourage more people to get the jab.

“There’s a lot of misinformation and rumors,” Dr. Badiane said, adding, “Especially surrounding clinical trials. If they’re made in Africa by Africans, it could increase the level of trust. 

The initiative constitutes part of a larger package of investment in vaccine and pharmaceutical production in Africa launched in May 2021 by investment conglomerate, Team Europe, which is comprised of the European Commission, EU member states, and European Investment Banks, and whose strategy is to support the medium- to long-term sustainability of health development in Africa.

Apart from the production of Covid-19 vaccines, Senegal’s new production facility will also produce vaccines for endemic diseases, such as polio and yellow fever, which are highly prevalent in West Africa’s heavily populated metropolitan areas and rural communities.