Morocco starts construction of $562m Covid-19 vaccine plant

As Morocco kicks off construction of a $562m vaccine plant, we look at how African countries are edging closer to self-sufficiency in vaccine production.


Image : Moroccan Royal Palace/AFP

Morocco has started construction of a new $562m vaccine plant with the capacity to produce 116m vaccines in 2024.

The new ‘SENSYO Pharmatech’ factory in the coastal city of Benslimane, a joint project between the Kingdom and Swedish company Recipharm, was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by King Mohamed VI on 27 January.

The plant will be a “fill and finish” site that imports components of vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccines, and blends them into vials for distribution in Morocco and the rest of the continent.

The project hopes to make Morocco’s vaccine programme “self-sufficient” and make the country a leading biotechnology platform on the African continent, a statement from the government said.

Morocco is already producing more than 3m doses per month of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine a year for its 36 million population.

The country has so far distributed 52.2m vaccines, while 23.2m (62.8%) of the population are fully vaccinated, according to Our World In Data.

What facilities are ready elsewhere on the continent?

South Africa

South Africa opened a new manufacturing facility on 19 January in Cape Town to help local company NantSA make Covid-19 vaccines in future.

The plant is a partnership between US-based biotechnology firm NantWorks, the South African government and South African universities to support the continent’s vaccine manufacturing capacity, President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the inauguration.

NantWorks invested $200m in building the plant, which aims to produce 1 billion vaccines annually by 2025, said the firm’s biotech billionaire founder, South African-born Patrick Soon-Shiong.

East of Cape Town in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare operates another fill-and-finish site that started supplying Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines to the country on July 26.

That facility has a capacity of 220 million vaccines per year which it plans to sell in South Africa and to other African countries.

South Africa’s vaccine rollout suffered a major set back in September when 30 million contaminated J&J vaccines were destroyed in September.

The destroyed doses, manufactured at Aspen’s Gqeberha facility, were compromised due to a contaminated drug substance supplied by J&J’s US partner Emergent Biosolutions, Aspen said.

Another vaccine production plant in Cape Town operated by the Biovac Institute hopes to produce 100 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses annually starting early this year after it received the drug substance from Europe in December, a Pfizer executive said.


Senegal unveiled plans to begin constructing a new Covid-19 vaccine plant in Dakar in late 2021 to produce 25 million doses per month by the end of 2022, the financers of the project said in July.

The African Development Bank said it would provide $3bn in funding to the project, led by the Pasteur Institute, on Saturday.

Senegal will start producing Covid-19 vaccines in the next eight to 12 months, according to Nicaise Ndembi, senior science adviser to the director of Africa CDC.

In October 2021, Rwanda and Senegal signed an agreement with BioNTech for a facility to manage every stage of production of mRNA vaccine under license. Construction will start in mid 2022 the company said.

A final decision about the location for the first BioNtech mRNA manufacturing site has not yet been reached.

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