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Rwanda: Construction of first mRNA vaccine factory reaches key phase



**African leaders including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Ghana’s Nana Akuffo Adod and the African Union chiarperson Moussa Faki Mahamat attended Monday (Dec. 18) the inauguration of the first BioNTech site in Rwanda.

The German biotechnology firm seeks to set up its first vaccine production hub on the continent aiming to boost access to mRNA jabs in Africa.

The pharmaceutical company said it had set up a production unit to make vaccines for protection against various diseases in Africa.

The co-Founder and CEO of BioNTech detailed his company’s goals in Africa: “We want to contribute to build a sustainable, resilient vaccine ecosystem. The essence of our contribution here in Africa is clear. Potential future vaccines need to be produced in Africa, for Africa, addressing regional needs and global standards.”

The $150-million project marks a multi-agency attempt to avoid a repeat of the global distribution of vaccine during the Covid-19 pandemic flaws which saw regions like Europe be prioritized over countries of the global south.

President Kagame hailed a game-chaging milestone.

“mRNA vaccines could not even be administered in Africa. It was said to be too complicated for our health systems. Then, when we embarked on this journey to manufacture these vaccines on our continent, we were told that it would take a minimum of 30 years […] That was all wrong. It is possible. And because it is possible, it is also necessary.”

The ceremony attended by the Prime Minister of Barbados and the European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen among other dignitaries.

BioNtech expects to finish building the factory in 2024 and begin operations the following year.

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The company said it will employ about 100 local staff and train them in making a host of new vaccines using the latest mRNA technology.

Rwanda will then distribute the vaccines to the 55-member African Union bloc.

The Kigali facility is made from recycled shipping and sits on 35,000 square metres of land.

Africa’s first mRNA vaccine hub was launched in April in the South African city of Cape Town.

Set up with the support of the World Health Organization, the Cape Town project is run by South African bio-pharmaceutical company Biovac, biotechnology firm Afrigen and the South African Medical Research Council.

The hub has the potential to expand manufacturing capacity for other vaccines and products, such as insulin to treat diabetes, cancer medicines and, potentially, vaccines for diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

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