Botswana has become the first country in Africa to approve the use of the Texas-made COVID-19 vaccine Corbevax. Botswana’s president and California biotech company NantWorks made the announcement Monday as they began construction of a plant to produce COVID-vaccines and drugs to fight cancer.
CEO of biotech firm NantWorks Patrick Soon-Shiong announced on Monday that Botswana’s Medicines Regulatory Authority (BOMRA) had approved the Corbevax jab.
He made the announcement at a groundbreaking ceremony for a vaccine and cancer drug production facility, along with Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi.
"I am pleased to announce, Mr. President, with the incredibly hard work of both the Ministry of Health and BOMRA, today we announce Africa’s first approved vaccine for Africa by Botswana," Soon-Shiong said.
Corbevax is a patent-free COVID vaccine developed by the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in the United States. It has been used in Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia.
Soon-Shiong said the first consignment would be delivered to Botswana for distribution across Africa.
“This vaccine has been tested and shown to be active in every variant including omicron. I got a commitment this morning that Botswana, effective immediately, will have access to 100 million of these vaccines that you can distribute,” Soon-Shiong said.
The plant, which is expected to be operational by 2026, plans to produce vaccines for COVID and other diseases, as well as cancer treatment drugs.
Masisi said the plant heralds a new dawn for the production of pharmaceuticals on the continent.
“This is particularly noteworthy in the Africa region, which bears a disproportionate disease burden exacerbated limitation of resources and capabilities to address these health challenges. We are determined to dictate a new legacy associated with access to medicines, vaccines and other health technologies,” he said.
Masisi said the facility would help address vaccine inequality in Africa, where less than 20% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID - two years into the pandemic.
“Disparities in the distribution of vaccines across the world resulted in a lopsided vaccination drive that seriously hampered efforts to effectively contain the COVID-19 worldwide. This problem has been aptly defined as vaccine nationalism. It is therefore our intent, our conviction that the opening of this vaccine manufacturing facility, will go a long way in changing this narrative,” Masisi said.
Botswana’s Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti says the project would also help treat chronic diseases.
“This day marks a new level in our scientific development and advancement. It signifies a new technological breakthrough which will see us as not just a consumer but also a manufacturer of vaccines and other medication that will come out of this magnificent project," Dikoloti said.
Botswana’s vaccine manufacturing facility will be the second in Africa being built by Soon-Shiong.
In January, the South African-born U.S. billionaire opened a similar facility in Cape Town.