Moderna reaches preliminary agreement to build Covid vaccine manufacturing plant in Africa

Moderna reaches preliminary agreement to build Covid vaccine manufacturing plant in Africa

A health official prepares a syringe with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine prior to administering it during a mass Covid-19 vaccination drive in Nairobi on September 17, 2021.

Simon Maina | AFP | Getty Images

Moderna has reached a memorandum of understanding with Kenya to build a Covid vaccine manufacturing plant in the East African nation, the company announced Monday.

Moderna plans to invest $500 million to produce messenger RNA, the technology underlying its Covid vaccines, at the facility with the goal of manufacturing 500 million doses annually. Moderna could fill Covid vaccine doses at the Kenya facility as early as 2023 subject to demand, according to the company.

The biotech company reached the agreement with the support of the U.S. government. As the coronavirus pandemic eases in the U.S., the Biden administration has made increasing vaccination globally a central priority.

Moderna has faced criticism from activist groups such as Oxfam International and Doctors Without Borders for not sharing its vaccine technology with middle- and lower-income countries so they can produce Covid vaccines locally. The company said in October 2020 it would not enforce Covid related patents during the pandemic and was willing to license its vaccine after the pandemic.

Moderna has pledged 650 million doses of its vaccine to COVAX through 2022, an international alliance backed by the World Health Organization to deliver shots to low- and middle-income countries. The WHO has repeatedly criticized wealthy nations and vaccine makers for not doing enough to make sure people in poorer nations have access to Covid vaccines.

The company received U.S. taxpayer money under Operation Warp Speed to develop the vaccine. Moderna is currently locked in a patent dispute with the National Institutes of Health over the technology underlying the vaccine. White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a call with reporters last week, suggested the NIH would license the technology globally if it wins the dispute with Moderna.

“Whatever it is that we can do, we will do,” Fauci said.

Moderna delivered 807 million Covid vaccine doses worldwide in 2021. The Covid vaccine is the company’s only commercially available product. It sold $17.7 billion of its vaccine in 2021, which represents virtually all of its $18.5 billion in revenue for the year. Moderna soared to profitability during the pandemic, booking $12.2 billion in net income for 2021 after a net loss of $747 million in 2020 while the vaccine was under development.