BioNTech first modular vaccine labs arrive in Rwanda

RWANDA – Rwanda has acquired its first modular container prototype known as BioNTainers which uses mRNA technology to produce vaccines.

The six mobile vaccine-production units developed by German pharmaceutical company BioNTech are expected to commence manufacturing vaccines approximately 12 to 18 months after their installation. It is capable of producing up to 100 million mRNA vaccines per year.

Germany-based BioNTech says one of the recycled shipping container will produce mRNA vaccines while the second container will produce formulated bulk drug products.

The plan is to use the same facility to manufacture malaria and tuberculosis vaccines. The containers will also pioneer treatments in the development phase against diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV which are among the leading killers in Africa.

“Historic milestone today as the first BioNtainers arrived in Rwanda, exactly 3 years since the first case of Covid-19 was detected in our country. This system will allow end-to-end mRNA vaccine production in Africa for the first time,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a tweet.

The modular systems consist of 12 sea containers housing the same manufacturing process and equipment used in its factory.

This is the first such shipment to Africa as the continent seeks to boost local production of mRNA vaccines.

The Kigali plant is the first mRNA technology manufacturing hub, with similar facilities to be set up in Senegal and South Africa. 

Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and Tunisia will receive technology from the hub to produce their own mRNA vaccines.

Once assembled, they will become a vaccine production hub for jabs against a variety of illnesses.

BioNTech said it had employed nine local scientists, with a plan to increase staffing to at least 100 by next year and eventually have local employees run the facility.

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

“This shows the power of science, partnerships and humanity, what people can do to fight a terrifying pandemic,” Health Minister Sabin Nsanzimana said.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed Africa’s huge dependence on imported vaccines.

Less than half of the continent’s 1.2 billion people are fully inoculated against Covid-19, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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