Targeting vaccine self-sufficiency
Making the Covid-19 vaccine at home to cover the needs of Egypt’s population and export it to African nations is part of Egypt’s strategy to contain the pandemic.
On 21 May, Egypt received 1,400 litres of raw material required for manufacturing the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. The batch, the first to arrive in Cairo, would be sufficient to produce two million doses within two months. A further amount will soon be shipped to produce more than 40 million doses by the end of this year.
According to Khaled Megahed, the spokesman of the Ministry of Health and Population, Egypt intends to produce annually 40 to 60 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine. Megahed noted that last month the Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) signed two agreements with the Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac to manufacture the vaccine. Both agreements stipulate that the Chinese company would transfer the technology required to manufacture the vaccine and would secure for Egypt all technical information related to the company’s vaccine and provide technical assistance. “Technical assistance will include examining VACSERA’s factories and testing the final product and means of manufacturing,” Megahed said.
Megahed said the vaccine’s production process includes several stages: testing the raw materials by the Egyptian Drug Authority (EDA); packaging the vaccine; issuing an approval and carrying out stability studies; and conducting efficiency tests by the EDA. “After meeting Egypt’s own needs, vaccines produced in Egypt will be exported to other countries in the Middle East and Africa to help fight the pandemic,” Megahed said.
Heba Wali, head of VACSERA, said a team of Chinese scientists had arrived in Egypt prior to the vaccine’s shipment to work on the production process as well as transfer their technology to Egyptian experts. The Chinese, who will stay in Egypt for three weeks, will supervise the production of the first two million doses. “The government is totally supporting us as it has provided VACSERA with LE750 million for manufacturing the vaccine,” Wali said.
Megahed also said Egypt’s leading pharmaceutical company Minapharm reached an agreement late last month with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to produce 40 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. The agreement to produce the vaccine includes Minapharm’s Berlin-based subsidiary ProBioGen AG which will undertake efforts for process optimisation to increase the production scale, taking advantage of its expertise in viral vector technology and manufacturing process development for vaccines and gene therapy.
According to a press release issued by Minapharm, the production of the 40 million annual doses which will start soon will take place in its Cairo biotech facility for global distribution.
Egypt has already received 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 600,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm. These were provided as part of the global Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative which aims at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organisation.
Egypt also received a gift shipment from the UAE of 50,000 Sinopharm doses, thus bringing the country’s supply of Covid-19’s various vaccines to five million doses.
Around 1.8 million people have been vaccinated against the deadly virus in Egypt out of a total of 3.5 million who have registered to receive the inoculation via a website set up by the Ministry of Health and Population for Egyptians 18 years and older (https://egcovac.mohp.gov.eg/#/home)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly