In a statement released on Wednesday, the companies said Cape Town-based Biovac will complete the last step in the manufacturing process, known as “fill and finish,” of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.
“To facilitate Biovac’s involvement in the process, technical transfer, on-site development and equipment installation activities will begin immediately,” read the statement.
“Ingredients to produce the jabs will arrive from plants based in Europe, while the manufacturing of finished doses will start in 2022,” the companies said.
The companies plan that at “full operation capacity” the annual production of Biovac will reach 100 million doses annually, to be distributed to AU member states.
The announcement comes as just 1.5 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, compared with 43.7 percent in the European Union and nearly 50 percent in the United States, according to Our World in Data.
India and South Africa have been pushing a proposal to temporarily lift intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines to boost global manufacturing capacity, and unequal distribution has been a source of debate for months at the World Trade Organization.
Without these intellectual property rights, manufacturing companies would not risk being sued for producing jabs without a licence from the vaccine-maker company.
Yet the proposal, submitted in October and supported by most WTO members, has been opposed by a handful of wealthy countries claiming such a waiver would hamper technological innovation.
Last month, the WHO said it was setting up a training facility in South Africa to give companies there the know-how and licences to produce their own COVID-19 vaccines.
Biovac, one of the initial participants in the hub, has been a partner of Pfizer since 2015 to manufacture and distribute its Prevenar 13 pneumonia vaccine.