Moderna slammed for putting brakes on Africa vaccine plant

Africa Centres for Disease Controls (CDC) has accused Moderna of abandoning its commitment to building vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Africa after pausing plans for a plant in Kenya.

Dan Stanton, Managing editor

April 16, 2024

2 Min Read
DepositPhotos/Author VitaliiStock

Moderna, which rose to international prominence through the approval of its messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine Spikevax in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had pledged a $500 million investment in October 2021 to construct a biomanufacturing plant on the continent. In March 2022, the firm divulged plans for a facility set to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines annually in Kenya, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the government.

But late last week, the firm announced it “has paused its efforts to build an mRNA manufacturing facility in Kenya” as it assesses future demand for mRNA vaccines in Africa. “Moderna has not received any vaccine orders for Africa since 2022 and has faced the cancellation of previous orders, resulting in more than $1 billion in losses and write-downs.”

Global demand for COVID-19 vaccines has contracted (Spikevax pulled in $18.4 billion in 2022 vs $6.7 billion in 2023) leading to Moderna to address and reduce its global manufacturing network to – as CEO Stephane Bancel told analysts last year – “get our gross margin back to where it should be.”

However, margins and a $1 billion loss were not at the forefront of concerns from regional health agency Africa CDC. “Africa CDC notes with disappointment that Moderna has put its plans to establish vaccine manufacturing in Kenya on hold,” the health agency wrote in a statement yesterday.

“To blame Africa and Africa CDC for lack of demand for COVID-19 vaccines and therefore the reason to put on hold plans to manufacture vaccines in Africa, only serves to perpetuate the inequity that characterized the response to the COVID–19 pandemic.”

COVID-19 vaccines were delivered late to Africa, the health agency said, “long after vaccines were made available to the developed world. Such actions significantly contributed to lower the demand for vaccines once these eventually were made available for Africa.”

The statement continued: “While other vaccine manufacturers are progressing with their plans and construction in Africa, Moderna is abandoning a commitment to build highly needed and relevant vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Africa, in truth, demonstrating that Moderna’s commitment is in fact not to vaccine equity and access to vaccines, through building manufacturing in Africa.”

Fellow vaccine maker BioNTech was accused in September last year of scaling back its own manufacturing plans in Africa, with a plant in South Africa being dropped and a facility in Senegal now set to be a smaller-scale production site or R&D center. However, the firm – also part of the COVID vaccine vanguard – denied this was the case, telling us at the time there are plans to go beyond some of the original MoUs inked with African nations including Senegal and Rwanda.

In a statement sent to BioProcess Insider, Moderna affirmed it is “committed to ensuring equitable access and meeting emerging demands from African nations for its COVID-19 vaccine through its global manufacturing network.”

About the Author(s)

Dan Stanton

Managing editor

Journalist covering the international biopharmaceutical manufacturing and processing industries.

Founder and editor of Bioprocess Insider, a daily news offshoot of publication Bioprocess International, with expertise in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, in particular, the following niches: CROs, CDMOs, M&A, IPOs, biotech, bioprocessing methods and equipment, drug delivery, regulatory affairs and business development.

From London, UK originally but currently based in Montpellier, France through a round-a-bout adventure that has seen me live and work in Leeds (UK), London, New Zealand, and China.

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