EU to back creation of vaccine production centres in Africa

Bloc will offer financial and technical support to poorer nations

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for the Summit on the Financing of African Economies at the Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris, on May 18, 2021.  / AFP / POOL / Ian LANGSDON
Powered by automated translation

The EU is backing proposals to set up new vaccine manufacturing centres in Africa to help developing nations boost inoculation efforts.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for more vaccine production to save lives around the world.

Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said the initiative would "scale up vaccine manufacturing in Africa" and "empower countries to produce vaccines themselves."

"Africa’s best strength is its people. We are with you. We’ll mobilise the resources necessary to start growing again. For Africa and a truly global recovery", she said.

European partners will assist with funding deals worth hundreds of millions of euros from national development agencies and the European Investment Bank. Support will also come in the form of technical assistance and intellectual property right waivers.

Further discussions will be held during a global health summit due to take place in Rome on Friday.

Ms Von der Leyen reportedly discussed plans for Africa during an informal meeting with EU leaders this month.

It comes as the Red Cross urged the world to take "extraordinary steps" to increase manufacturing efforts, including the need for waivers on intellectual property.

"In the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, the intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines is a necessary political commitment to address inequities in access at the scale and speed we need," Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in a statement.

"Millions of lives depend on it and on the equally important transfer of technology and knowledge to increase manufacturing capacity worldwide," he said.

However, EU member states are reportedly in favour of "voluntary licensing" as opposed to patent waivers supported by both the Red Cross and the US.

Three manufacturing sites are currently earmarked at the Institut Pasteur in Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa, said Ayoade Alakija, co-chairwoman of the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, with the possibility of another in Egypt being considered.

The EU was hoping to revive plans to create an African Medicines Agency, a continent-wide drug regulator first suggested in 2014, the Financial Times reported.

Africa has received only 65 million of the two billion doses promised under the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme.

"While we appreciate the work of AstraZeneca which has been steadily increasing the speed and volume of deliveries, we need other manufacturers to follow suit," World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing on Monday.

Covax relies heavily on the Serum Institute of India's exports of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine but most of these are being used domestically as India battles a wave of infections.

US President Joe Biden ordered 20 million Covid-19 doses for the rest of the world by the end of June, it was announced this week.