Gavi, the vaccine alliance, says it has committed more than US$1.8 billion to support vaccine production in Africa, a move that could bolster the continent’s efforts to address historical dependence on imported vaccines and establish its own robust biotechnology sector.

Up to $US1 billion of this will be made available to drugs manufacturers through the African Vaccine Manufacturing Accelerator (AVMA), which the Gavi board approved at a meeting in Ghana last week, the alliance said.

The new finance mechanism, scheduled to be launched in June 2024, is a response to the stark inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It aims to ensure a resilient vaccine supply for Africa, supporting at least four African manufacturers to deliver over 800 million doses over the next ten years.

Jean Kaseya, director-general of Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC), said the commitment was “a “game-changer” for the continent’s efforts towards vaccine self-reliance.

“The African Union has set a target for the continent to produce 60 per cent of the vaccines needed on the continent by 2040; AVMA is indeed an accelerator towards that ambition,” he said in a statement.

The funding announcement also includes a US$ 500 million First Response Fund, put in place to secure immediate vaccine funding for future pandemics and extraordinary support to help close routine immunisation gaps, a legacy of COVID-19.

Gavi’s board approved a further US$22 million to support pandemic prevention, preparedness and response activities.

Gavi has also added the new multivalent meningococcal vaccine into its investment strategy and set out a shortlist of other proposed new vaccines, taking the total investment to $US1.8 billion.

However, vaccine manufacturers will not benefit from the accelerator funds immediately.

Following board approval, Gavi will consult widely on AVMA’s operational framework, including an inclusive steering committee and governance processes.”

Olly Cann, Gavi’s  head of communications

Cann said the AVMA would focus on supporting critical development stages and offsetting high start-up costs for vaccine manufacturers. This, he believes, “positions Africa as a key player in the global vaccine ecosystem”.

“AVMA could help establish a robust biotechnology presence in Africa, manufacturing essential vaccines for cholera, malaria, measles, and the new hexavalent vaccine while supporting pandemic and outbreak prevention,” he said.

Vaccine equity gap

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed Africa’s precarious dependence on imported vaccines, necessitating funding initiatives to build Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capacity to tackle future health emergencies.

According to Africa CDC, just over half the population of Africa has now been vaccinated against COVID-19. However, the rate of vaccination was far slower than the world average.

Previous big funding initiatives for African vaccine manufacturing include the US$2 billion raised through Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) since 2021 towards the 60 per cent goal for African vaccine production and over US$12 billion allocated by the World Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) to the same end.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has committed €1 billion (US$1.08 billion) towards vaccines, medicines and health technology in Africa, while The African Development Bank (AfDB) established a US$3 billion facility to support healthcare infrastructure development in Africa, including vaccine production.

Earlier this year, Africa CDC produced a roadmap to help the continent achieve health security for sustainable development, known as the new public health order for Africa.

Its main pillars include expanded manufacturing of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics to help achieve universal health coverage.

Anodi Kaihula, is a community health nurse from Tanzania and member of the African Union’s Bingwa initiative, which aims to accelerate the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination among young people in Africa.

He says the Gavi pledge is the “right support for the region as the continent gears up for implementing the new public health order, particularly with regard to local vaccine manufacturing”.

But he believes there is need for further support from African nations.

“With the current status of only 1 per cent of vaccines being produced in Africa, much funding is needed to put infrastructures in place, human resources and capacity building for member states,’’ Kaihula told SciDev.Net.

“But the focus should be on raising domestic funding to make things happen sustainably.”

Gavi urged finance institutions to invest in sustainable business cases and encouraged the private sector to contribute to capacity building and technology transfer.

“Together, these efforts maximise sustainability and health security,” added Cann.