On Thursday, June 23, the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech broke ground in Kigali, Rwanda, for the production site of its COVID-19 vaccine. When finished, it will be Africa’s first mRNA vaccine plant.

According to a BioNTech press release, the 30,000m2 Kigali plant will have two modular vaccine production containers, a projected annual capacity of about 50 million vaccine doses, and the ability to scale production as needed. The first containers are expected to arrive in Rwanda in late 2022, with vaccine production beginning 12 to 18 months later. A plant in South Africa already produces COVID-19 vaccines commercially, but these use a more traditional virus-based technology rather than mRNA technology.

In the coming years, BioNTech expects the Rwanda plant to:

  • Become part of a larger supply network spanning several African countries, including Senegal and South Africa.
  • Used in the development of mRNA vaccines against malaria and tuberculosis, which are set to enter human trials in 2022.

The BioNTech facility is a component of the European Union’s Vaccine Equity for Africa initiative. Only 17 percent of Africa’s 1.3 billion people are fully immunized against COVID-19, compared to more than 70 percent of the population in the European Union. In Africa, uptake has also fallen short of expectations due to factors such as logistical challenges, misinformation, and a lack of urgency among populations. Fittingly, President Paul Kagame described the groundbreaking ceremony as a “milestone towards vaccine equity.”

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