Pharmaceutical company Moderna is allocating up to 500 million dollars to construct a vaccine factory in Africa. It must annually produce half a billion vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA), a new way of making vaccines to fight the corona pandemic.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel says planned factory in Africa will be similar to his company’s leading production site. It is located in Norwood in the US state of Massachusetts. However, the pharmaceutical company wants to have the African factory manned mainly by local employees.
It is still unclear in which country the advanced factory will be located. Bancel says there is a list of about five countries that may be suitable. Criteria such as political stability, infrastructure, and workers’ availability with the appropriate level of education are considered. The company expects to decide within a few months.
Moderna is not the first pharmaceutical company to announce that it will produce vaccines in Africa, the continent with the lowest vaccination coverage, during the pandemic. The other major maker of the new mRNA vaccines, Pfizer/BioNTech, announced in July that it would partner with South African Biovac.
Vaccines based on messenger RNA are new. Previous vaccines were invariably based on the pathogens themselves, for example, a piece of a weakened or inactivated virus. Instead, mRNA vaccines contain a piece of genetic code of a specific part of the coronavirus. In the case of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, it concerns a code of the so-called spike protein, with which the virus penetrates body cells.
As the name implies, messenger RNA plays the role of messenger. Around the puncture site, cells in the body of the person receiving it receives instructions from the mRNA to start producing the spike protein itself. The immune system recognizes that protein as foreign and attacks it. If the vaccinated person later comes into contact with the coronavirus, the immune system recognizes the spike protein and takes action.