Six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – will be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce their own mRNA vaccines through a program led by the ‘World Health Organization.
The groundbreaking project aims to help low- and middle-income countries manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and to international standards, with the goal of ending much of Africa’s dependence on vaccine manufacturers outside the continent.
The announcement comes the same week that BioNTech, which produces the Pfizer vaccine for Covid-19 – itself an mRNA vaccine – announced plans to deliver factory facilities built from shipping containers to several countries. African countries to enable the production of the Pfizer vaccine on the continent.
Created primarily to address the Covid-19 pandemic, the global mRNA hub has the potential to expand manufacturing capacity for other vaccines and products, such as insulin to treat diabetes, drugs for cancer and, potentially, vaccines against diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.
The WHO established its global mRNA technology transfer center after wealthy countries hoarded vaccines – and supply problems from India, as companies prioritized sales to governments that could pay the highest price – meant that low- and middle-income countries were pushed back. the queue for Covid-19 vaccines.
The ultimate goal of the program is to expand national and regional production capacity in all health technologies.
While the BioNTech initiative has been hailed for potentially shortening the Pfizer vaccine supply chain to Africa, it has also been criticized for not sharing technological know-how, which the WHO project will help. partly to straighten.
“No other event like the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few corporations to deliver global public goods is limiting and dangerous,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. announcing the first beneficiaries of the technology on Friday after visiting the hub in South Africa last week.
“The hub will not just be for South Africa, it’s for Africa, Africa and the whole world, because the spokes will be distributed all over the world.”
“The best way to tackle health emergencies and achieve universal health coverage is to dramatically increase the capacity of all regions to produce the health products they need.”
“We are waiting for clinical trials [in South Africa] start in the fourth quarter of this year, with approval expected in 2024, but this process can be accelerated, [and] there are other options the hub is exploring.
Tedros added that the benefits of this initiative would “extend well beyond Covid-19, creating a platform for vaccines against other diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and even cancer. So it’s a strategic investment, not just for Covid, but for all the big health issues we face.”
Tedros has repeatedly called for equitable access to vaccines to defeat the pandemic, and rails against how rich countries have hoarded doses, leaving Africa lagging behind other continents in the global effort to vaccination.
He pointed out on Friday that 116 countries around the world were still not on track to meet the target of vaccinating 70% of the population by the middle of this year, while 80% of Africa’s population was not. had not yet received a single dose.
Currently, only 1% of the vaccines used in Africa are produced on the continent of approximately 1.3 billion people.
The WHO said it would work with the six countries to develop a training and support roadmap so they can start producing vaccines as soon as possible. The training will begin in March.
The South African hub is already producing mRNA vaccines at lab scale and moving to commercial scale.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Friday’s announcement “signifies mutual respect, mutual recognition of what we can all bring to the party, investment in our economies, investment in infrastructure and, in many ways, give back to the continent”.
French President Emmanuel Macron said supporting Africa’s health sovereignty was one of the main goals of starting local production, “to allow regions and countries to fend for themselves, in times of crisis and in times of peace”.
Ramaphosa said on Friday that global vaccine delivery system Covax and vaccine alliance Gavi should commit to buying vaccines from local manufacturing centers.
“The lack of a market for vaccines produced in Africa is something that should concern us all. Organizations such as Covax and Gavi need to commit to buying vaccines from local manufacturers instead of coming out of these centers that have been set up,” Ramaphosa said.