Read the Conversation
EF: Only a handful of multinational companies are present in the vaccines segment in South Africa and Africa. What is the positioning of Sanofi Pasteur in South Africa?
MS: Sanofi Pasteur is the global leader in pediatric vaccine manufacturing and supply with a long-standing commitment to South Africa. Vaccine manufacturing is a very complex process as vaccines are a biological product that differs significantly from other pharmaceutical products. The skillset for the vaccine manufacturing process is rare, and there are only a few pharmaceutical companies internationally that invest in vaccine manufacturing and research and development.
Our commitment to South Africa is evident in one of our investments to the Private Public Partnership with BIOVAC, the first vaccine manufacturing plant in Africa. These types of public-private partnerships, which involve a technology transfer of infrastructure, skills, and expertise, are rare. The technology transfer to BIOVAC is for the most innovative vaccine globally, as it covers six diseases in one vaccine. Our long-term partnership with BIOVAC is essential to continue to build on this expertise and capability within South Africa.
EF: Are there anti-vaccine issues here as there are in the US?
MS: Anti-vaccine views are evolving in South Africa as communication evolves. Because people have more access to social media, the internet, and Facebook, anti-vaccine opinions will continue to spread, and there will always be anti-vaccine opinions just as there are people who don’t believe in antibiotics.
History shows that a decrease in immunization coverage sets the stage for the reappearance of disease in previously protected populations. However, with stable and high vaccination coverage, disease declines, and for some diseases, eliminated. While vaccination saves up to 3 million lives every year, an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided with improved vaccination coverage. It is a concept change that needs to happen.
EF: Describe Sanofi Pasteur’s footprint in Africa?
MS: Sanofi Pasteur is the market leader in Africa, with a range of vaccines against 17 communicable diseases. We are the first (1st )company to launch acellular pertussis (aP) combinations and conjugate meningitis vaccines in the continent. Each year, we supply more than one billion doses to people around the world and seek, relentlessly, to extend the benefits of vaccination to new infectious diseases while improving existing vaccines to enhance health and wellbeing.
EF: Could you define what access means to you?
MS: Personally, access means that if there is a vaccine available, a baby should get it and that should not be negotiable. Vaccines are a critical public health need. Presently, there are challenges with access to vaccines in the global landscape as sometimes manufacturers pull out of producing some vaccines which resulted in a decrease in the supply. In addition to this, the complexity in manufacturing also poses a challenge. A single product can take up to 36 months to manufacture, which results in the delay of supply and distribution. A solution to addressing these challenges are long term commitments with governments and partners are imperative to ensure the sustainability of vaccines and longer-term partnerships and commitments are essential to increase access. If there is no access to vaccines, there will be diseases.
EF: How do you balance your plan and strategy for South Africa and the African continent?
MS: The plan and strategy for South Africa and Africa at large is to work with our partners and governments to increase coverage and ensure that every child is vaccinated. We are the number one partner to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and in the past ten (10) years, we have delivered 1 billion doses of polio vaccines globally. Sanofi Pasteur is in partnership with various stakeholders on the continent, one of the most robust partnerships is with the World Health Organization (WHO), where we work in ensuring stockpiling to help with outbreak control. We also work closely with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and other funders to make sure there is access to vaccines in Africa.
EF: How are you working with policy makers around the requirements and challenges of vaccines?
MS: Partnerships are key in making sure that policies are updated and implemented in Africa and South Africa to allow for vaccine innovation, improved access and expanded coverage. Constant dialogue with partners is imperative as it allows Sanofi Pasteur to advance our portfolio and programmes in order meet the needs of the country and of Africa.
EF: You have been with Sanofi Pasteur for almost three years now; what are you most proud of achieving to date? What is your vision for the company in the next decade?
MS: I am most proud of our partnership with BIOVAC as it has boosted local capacity. It is pleasing to work in an organization that is invested in Africa and has the interests of the country at heart.
My vision for the next ten (10) years is to see a change in access to vaccines. We have a unique immunization structure and world-class vaccines in South Africa; however, we are still missing many babies, and we need to improve that with our partners. We have the vaccines, but we need to improve getting it to the patient vastly. The last mile is essential