Moderna U-turn underscores the need for vaccine independence

Covid vaccine

Covid-19 mRNA vaccine production platform. Moderna put Kenya plant plans on hold as Covid vaccine demand slumps.

Photo credit: File | AFP

Recently, Africa received disenchanting news about Moderna's decision to halt the well-thought-out plan to have a vaccine manufacturing plant in Kenya. The project was to be one of several efforts to create vaccine production capabilities in Africa.

It was pledged after the Covid-19 pandemic raised concerns about the disquieting trend of Africa's dependence on other continents for the vital vaccine. Even though the decision to halt the project is part of the company's cost-cutting strategy due to the post-pandemic decrease in demand for Africa's Covid-19 vaccines, it underscores the pressing need for African governments to invest in local vaccine manufacturing.

This turn of events, coupled with the fact that GAVI, the primary donor of vaccines and immunisation funds in Kenya, had earlier said it would end its support in 2029, should give a cue to the government to sustain its support for local vaccine manufacturing to attain vaccine independence.

GAVI and Unicef provide at least Sh32 billion annually for Kenya's primary immunisation programme. Vaccine independence is a resource-intensive undertaking, but if we look at it from a futuristic lens, the advantages far outweigh the costs, making it a necessity and a win-win for Kenya and the continent.

Apart from nurturing supply chain resilience, local production enhances national security by reducing dependence on foreign manufacturers and suppliers and allows the government to take control over the production and distribution of essential vaccines.

Even to the underserved areas where access may be limited during crises or other unpredictable occurrences that adversely affect the vaccine ecosystem. Producing vaccines locally will allow timely response to pandemics, which can help control the spread of infectious diseases and minimise their impact on public health and the economy.

Furthermore, local vaccine manufacturers and scientists have a high ground in being able to customize and adapt vaccines to meet specific demographic requirements effectively. Modifying vaccine formulations will make it possible to swiftly respond to changes in new variants and disease patterns during a pandemic.

Most importantly, tailored vaccines are suited to the local needs and improve efficacy, thus building vaccine confidence among the citizens. With a robust and reliable vaccine manufacturing capability, Kenya will secure a prestigious position on the global health security and diplomacy stage. Global health has become a key player in geopolitics, and if Kenya meets its commitment to securing and improving health for everyone, it will be at the forefront of this arena.

A strong public health preparedness and response infrastructure will reassure policymakers about the resilience of Kenya's health system, opening up partnership opportunities with other nations and international organizations to share knowledge, resources, and technology. These collaborations will propel global health initiatives forward, marking a significant stride for Kenya.

Local vaccine manufacturing is not just a public health initiative; it is a strategic economic move with profound benefits. By investing in this sector, the government can drive economic growth, create a multitude of job opportunities, foster a skilled workforce, and support related industries such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare. This, in turn, will advance economic prosperity and ensure a sustainable future for the country, making it a win-win situation for all.

The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya BioVax Institute.

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