BioNTech: First Mobile Vaccine Factories Under Construction – How They Will Work


DW Byrd Riegert

Edited by: Maria Rigoutsou

An entire vaccine factory in a tiny version. The latest generation of mRNA vaccines can only be stored at refrigerator temperature, which can be guaranteed by a mobile installation. The operation of the tiny mobile factory requires only electricity, water and a room in which the containers will be placed to protect from the sun and the general weather conditions. “This mobile facility can be installed anywhere in the world,” explains Zirk Petting, technical director of BioNTech, the pharmaceutical company that developed the container facility in less than a year.

In Marburg, Hesse, BioNTech builds first container for experimental and training purposes. The company has christened its invention “Biontainer”, an abbreviation of container and BioNTech. It was presented to the public this Tuesday. Among those present were Senegal President Maki Sal and the head of the World Health Organization, Tentos Antanom Gebregesus. Maki Sal is also the head of the African Union, whose representatives will meet with EU representatives at the Brussels Summit on Thursday. Senegal, Rwanda or South Africa will be the first regions to introduce the mobile unit system. “We learned painfully during this pandemic that there are all kinds of problems and disagreements about vaccine supplies. “The problem can only be solved if there is local production,” Petting told DW.

Only 7% are vaccinated in Africa

Mainz-based BioNTech, which developed the mRNA vaccine and together with Pfizer has so far produced billions of vaccine doses for industrialized countries in the North, is now turning its attention to Africa. BioNTech will be able to produce approximately 50 million doses per year in containers. The company plans to train local staff to operate the mini-factories and ensure their operation.

The first system is to be delivered to an African country in the second quarter of 2022 and then will be operational by the end of the year.

How many units will be built and where they will be located depends on the funding. BioNTech pays for the container plant, but African states will have to offer the plots, local infrastructure, a production room and the right staff.

The vaccination rate on the African continent is still very low, at around 7%. The EU has pledged to donate 500 million doses of vaccine by mid-2022, but delivery is slow. Humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam are requesting that patents for vaccines be granted to African countries so that they can produce them themselves.

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