3 local companies ready to produce COVID-19 vaccine

BY: Donald Ato Dapatem
 Prof. Frimpong Boateng (right), Head of the Presidential Vaccine Manufacturing Committee, speaking at the workshop in Accra
Prof. Frimpong Boateng (right), Head of the Presidential Vaccine Manufacturing Committee, speaking at the workshop in Accra

A consortium of three local pharmaceutical companies has secured a plant for the production of COVID-19 vaccine.

The plant is expected in the country before the end of the year, while production will begin next year.

Under a private-led initiative — DEK Vaccines Limited — the companies, comprising Danadams, Ernest Chemists and Kinapharma, are being supported by the government to produce COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

At a stakeholder consultation between the Vaccine Production Committee and the Presidential Press Corps last Friday, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, who chairs the committee, disclosed that the move was part of the short-term measure towards vaccinating the population against the deadly COVID-19 virus.

He said the DEK consortium would go through all the international standardisation and packaging (fill and finish) processes for the production of the vaccines in Ghana.

First vaccine production

Usually, Prof. Frimpong-Boateng explained, an order for a production plant would take 14 months to be delivered, with installation, technology transfer, bulk supply of vaccine and other ingredients taking about two years to complete.

However, with the plant available on the shelves, Ghana could achieve the feat of producing its first vaccine under licence next year, he said.

He said the committee’s European partner helped it to locate a finished plant, the reason the government gave the guarantee for an uptake which had encouraged the DEK consortium to place an order for it.

The plant was, therefore, expected to be delivered and installed by the end of the year, he added.

Currently, Ghana imports 99 per cent of all its vaccines, including those for children under five.

“The move is to reverse the trend in the short to medium term with the local production of vaccines for the domestic and African markets,” he said.

National Vaccine Institute

Prof. Frimpong-Boateng, a renowned heart surgeon, explained that in the long term, Ghana was looking at the establishment of a National Vaccine Institute that would coordinate the activities of all institutions, including research and development, finance, standards regulation and the production of vaccines locally for existing illnesses and others that would be required at the outset of new diseases.

The chairman, who set up the National Cardiothoracic Centre and is a former Chief Executive Officer of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, explained that what the consortium, with the help of the government, had done “means that we want to start the process of putting up one plant for fill and finish, so that we can produce a fill and finish vaccine in Ghana. That is very important”.

The fill and finish is a process by which Ghana will receive ingredients from existing manufacturing companies and use stringent measures and procedures to produce the vaccine locally.

Assembling plant

A former Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Anarfi Asamoah-Baah, who is a member of the committee, explained that the National Vaccine Institute would coordinate two activities.

The first was to ensure that Ghana’s pharmaceutical industry had the capacity, both in personnel and equipment, and would be able to replicate and produce already established vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccine, in the country.

He likened the processes to an assembling plant and noted that although the pharmaceutical industry in the country had been producing drugs, the reproduction of normal medicines and vaccines were like assembling vehicles and airplanes, which required two different forms of expertise, processes and equipment.

Second challenge

Dr Asamoah-Baah, who is also an advisor to the President on COVID-19, noted that the second challenge the institute would deal with was how to develop the capacity locally to undertake research and discover vaccines for future diseases.

That was where the research institutions would be supported on a sustained basis for years to be in readiness to provide vaccines for any virus.