Egypt Promises 1 Billion SinoVac Vaccines Per Year as Africans Decry Global ‘Vaccine Apartheid’
Egyptian state-run pharmaceutical Vacsera is gearing up to produce millions of doses of SinoVac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine to meet African needs. The continent is by far the least-vaccinated of any on Earth, with less than 2% of its 1.2 billion having gotten even one shot.
Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed told reporters recently that the Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) will use two factories that will produce up to three million doses of the SinoVac vaccine daily, "or around a billion a year.”
An official statement said the move would make Egypt "the biggest vaccine producer in the Middle East and Africa.”
"We aim to not only be self-sufficient regarding the vaccine, but we hope to export it to our brothers in African countries and the entire region," Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly also said in a statement on Monday.
One factory, located in 6th of October City, delivered its first batch of 1 million doses last week, according to local media, while a second factory is set to open early next month in Giza. Both cities are suburbs of Cairo.
Vacsera president Dr. Heba Wali told reporters last week that the company was looking to diversify its vaccine sources. Vacsera has also signed a deal to manufacture 100 million Sputnik V vaccines, produced by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.
“Hopefully soon, we will announce our partnership with a European company," Wali noted.
Egypt has a population of roughly 100 million people, of whom just 7.5 million have been vaccinated. However, even that low vaccination rate is still fairly high for the continent, where less than 2% overall have been vaccinated.
© AP Photo / Themba HadebeThoko Hlongwane, receives the first dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from a health staff member during a vaccination day at a vaccination centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Monday, May 17, 2021.
Thoko Hlongwane, receives the first dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from a health staff member during a vaccination day at a vaccination centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Monday, May 17, 2021.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has decried the global inequality in COVID-19 vaccination, noting that 75% of all doses have been given to patients in wealthy nations. He recently called on those nations to pause plans for third “booster” shots, and instead use those vaccines to help people in poorer nations get their first doses.
China has been by far the largest supplier of vaccines to the Third World, exporting more than 770 million shots to 112 countries as of early August, including 40 countries in Africa, with the goal of reaching 2 billion doses by the end of the year. Most of the shots distributed have been from China’s other major producer, the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation, better known as Sinopharm.
African nations have obtained vaccines from a variety of other sources as well, including sales from Russia and donations from the US and France, as well as the WHO’s Covax program, purpose-built for transferring shots to poorer nations at low-to-no cost. However, these have been relatively few in number, and Covax has struggled with supply issues due to small donations and diversions of production, such as India’s sudden switch to using vaccines domestically when Covid cases exploded there earlier this year.
Ahmed Kalebi, an independent consultant pathologist and the founder of Lancet Kenya, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that Africa needs vastly more assistance from Europe in producing its own vaccines.
“It is only two countries in the whole of Africa that have the capacity to produce vaccines, that is South Africa and Senegal. You find countries like Kenya and Egypt, they do have the technical capacity but they never really invested in it,” he said, calling the global inequality “vaccine apartheid.”
Another man Al Jazeera spoke with, James Nderitu of Nairobi, told the Qatari outlet that if distribution had been more equitable, he would be getting his second dose of the vaccine instead of his first.
“I would therefore like to urge the European countries that have the vaccine to assist us. Instead of vaccinating children, they should stop being selfish and help the African countries so that we can get vaccinated,” Nderitu said.