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Rwanda’s vaccine manufacturing success story begins

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BioNTech, a leading biotechnology company, inaugurated its first manufacturing plant for mRNA vaccines in Africa in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali.

The inauguration comes after the German company signed deals in 2021 with Rwanda and the Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal to set up manufacturing sites on the continent. The facility construction was launched last year.

Speaking at the launch of the facility on Monday, December 18, President Paul Kagame said that the launch is a big milestone and comes at a time when it had been said that producing mRNA vaccines on the continent was impossible but the unveiling of the BioNTainers has proved otherwise.

“You may remember that the consensus, at first, was that mRNA vaccines could not even be administered in Africa. It was said to be too complicated for our health systems,” President Kagame said.

“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.” President Kagame said.

BioNTech indicated in a statement that it is on course to develop prophylactic mRNA vaccines targeting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV, and is also focusing on diseases with epidemic and pandemic potential, including Mpox.

Located in Rwanda’s Economic Zone in Kigali, the facility could initially manufacture up to 50 million doses annually of a product that has an RNA process similar to that of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, according to the company.

The facility is based on the Company’s high-tech, digitally enabled modular manufacturing units called BioNTainers. They are designed to manufacture a range of mRNA-based vaccines.

The BioNTainers are also designed to be updated regularly, as BioNTech aims for them to remain one of the most sophisticated mRNA manufacturing facilities in the world. The manufacturing site will initially be equipped with two BioNTainers.

BioNtech expects together with African partners to set up additional factories in Senegal and South Africa. The Kigali site is expected to become a node in a decentralized and robust African end-to-end manufacturing network. 

All vaccines to be manufactured in the network will be dedicated to people residing in member states of the African Union, this means that Rwanda will distribute the vaccines to the 55-member African Union bloc.

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

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.

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