NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Moderna Inc said on Monday (March 7) it would set up a manufacturing facility in Kenya, its first in Africa, to produce messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccine shots.
Moderna said it expects to invest about US$500 million (S$680 million) in the Kenyan facility and supply as many as 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines to the continent each year.
It also has plans to start filling doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in Africa as early as 2023.
Africa has lagged sharply behind other regions in vaccinating its citizens through the pandemic and there have been several efforts in recent months to help the continent produce its own mRNA Covid-19 vaccine shots.
"We all know the challenges that Kenya and the entire continent of Africa went through in the earlier stages of this pandemic that resulted in Africa being left behind. Not because of want but because of lack and Moderna has come to fill that space," Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement.
The World Health Organisation last year set up a tech transfer hub in South Africa to give poorer nations the know-how to produce Covid-19 vaccines, and has been trying to get Moderna and Pfizer to join in its efforts.
However, in September, a senior WHO official said there had not been much progress in talks with Moderna.
WHO-backed South Africa's Afrigen Biologics said in February it would produce a version of Moderna's shot, though it has not yet managed to enlist the US vaccine maker's assistance.
BioNTech, which teamed up with Pfizer to make the western world's most widely used Covid-19 vaccine shot, has also announced plans to begin work on its mRNA manufacturing facility in the African Union this year.
Moderna's Kenyan facility would manufacture drug substance and could be expanded to include fill/finish and packaging capabilities, the company said.
Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine brought in US$17.7 billion in sales in 2021 and has been cleared for use in more than 70 countries.
The company is developing several other vaccines based on mRNA technology, including for respiratory syncytial virus, HIV and shingles.