The Africa CDC responded to Moderna’s plans to step back from building a mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility in Kenya, saying the move by the Spikevax maker only “perpetuates” the inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.

Last week, Moderna announced it was was reevaluating its decision to build a $500 million plant because it hasn’t received any vaccine orders from the continent since 2022. The drugmaker grabbed global headlines in 2021 when it said it was looking to build a manufacturing site on the continent.

Spikevax earned Moderna $17.7 billion in sales in 2021 and $18.4 billion in 2022. However, as the pandemic began to wane and vaccine demand subsided in 2023, the company reported $6.7 billion in sales last year.

“To blame Africa and Africa CDC for lack of demand for COVID-19 vaccines and therefore the reason to put on hold plans to manufacture vaccines in Africa, only serves to perpetuate the inequity that characterized the response to the COVID–19 pandemic,” the organization said in an April 15 statement.

“While other vaccine manufacturers are progressing with their plans and construction in Africa, Moderna is abandoning a commitment to build highly needed and relevant vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Africa, in truth, demonstrating that Moderna’s commitment is in fact not to vaccine equity and access to vaccines, through building manufacturing in Africa,” the health organization said.

During the pandemic, the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust acquired 400 million vaccines from drugmakers other than Moderna because its vaccines weren’t made available despite attempts to buy from the company, according to the Africa CDC.

Fewer than 5% of the COVID-19 vaccines administered on the continent came from Moderna, the agency added, noting that most of the vaccines were delivered long after they had been made available to developed countries.

“We encourage Moderna, as an experienced vaccine manufacturer, to contribute to, and support, Africa’s ambitious goal of a secure and safe Africa on public health security for the betterment of African health security and beyond,” the organization said.

In its April 11 statement, the company said cancellations of previous orders amounted to “more than $1 billion” in losses and write-downs. Demand “has declined since the pandemic and is insufficient to support the viability of the factory planned in Kenya,” the company said.

The Boston-based drugmaker was widely criticized in 2021—even to the point of being fodder for late-night television hosts—for not making its COVID-19 shots readily available to poorer countries. At the time, the company said it had no intention of sharing its mRNA vaccine formula with the rest of the world.

In 2021, the White House reportedly urged Moderna to license the vaccine and make the shots more available in low- and middle-income countries after the company received $1.3 billion in government funding to help develop the vaccine.

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