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Employees test procedures for manufacturing mRNA for the COVID-19 vaccine in a BioNTech facility. Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

BioNTech announced this week that it plans to establish mRNA vaccine production facilities in Africa, according to the Financial Times.

Why it matters: The blockbuster success of mRNA vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic could give a boost to efforts to use the adaptable technology to tackle cancers, malaria and other intractable illnesses, as Axios has previously reported.

  • Africa has long been neglected by pharmaceutical companies, and establishing mRNA production capabilities could greatly improve the continent's prospects of combatting diseases — COVID-19 and beyond.

Context: The announcement — made jointly between BioNTech co-founder and chief executive Uğur Şahin and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — comes as countries in Africa have struggled to keep pace with wealthier nations in vaccinating their citizens against COVID-19.

  • The total number of COVID-19 vaccinations completed in Africa — about 39 million — accounts for just over 2% of global vaccinations, according to FT.
  • Additionally, Africa imports more than 99% of the vaccines it uses.

Details: Though still in its early stages, experts are optimistic that vaccines and therapies based on mRNA hold promise to combat infections from viruses like HIV and influenza that other vaccines have struggled to quash, according to Axios' Alison Snyder.

  • BioNTech's push to establish capacity in Africa for the early, highly technical stages of mRNA manufacturing could take about four years to complete, according to Şahin.
  • In the short term, BioNTech is planning to train a partner in Africa to "fill and finish" vaccine doses in approximately 12 months, allowing the continent to import large quantities of vaccines more efficiently, Şahin says.

What they're saying: "From the technology side, there is no reason why [vaccine production in Africa] should not be possible," Şahin told FT. “We are joining forces in a way that everyone brings in the best competences they have.”

What's next: Şahin is likely to urge nations to expand their COVID-19 vaccine exports globally at the G7 summit in England this week, per FT.

Go deeper

Sep 18, 2021 - Health

Mississippi reports rise in COVID-19 deaths among pregnant women

Dr. Thomas Dobbs speaks during a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2020. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At least eight pregnant women in Mississippi, who weren't fully vaccinated, have died of COVID-19 since late July, CNN reports.

Why it matters: The eight pregnant women who have died from the virus more than doubles the state's pandemic total in just two months.

Sep 17, 2021 - Health

International Mission Board to require COVID vaccine for missionaries

Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

The International Mission Board, which deploys thousands of missionaries, announced that its plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations for those they're sending into the field.

Why it matters: COVID-19 refusal rates are among the highest among white evangelical Christians and the requirement by the International Mission Board may be the first U.S. missionary agency known to have such a mandate.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk — Fauci says Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S. — U.S. restricts air travel from 8 countries over Omicron concerns.
  2. Politics: Biden says fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns."
  3. States: New York declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron.
  4. World: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating worldWHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries — First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.