[KAMPALA] Six African countries must receive technology which will enable them to manufacture COVID-19 vaccinesin an effort to reduce dependence on manufacturers outside the continent, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced.
Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia will have access to messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology along with the knowledge needed to manufacture the vaccines and support the training of researchers, the WHO said.
The rollout is part of a global initiative aimed at helping low- and middle-income countries gain access to technology to produce large-scale mRNA vaccines and to international standards to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The way we are fighting the next pandemic will be very different because the continent would have produced diagnostics and vaccines.”
John Nkengasong, Africa CDC
MRNA vaccines, used by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for their shoots, work by instructing the cells to produce a protein that triggers an immune response to fight viruses as they enter the body. These two companies have so far delivered the majority of their doses to rich countries, leaving lower-income countries out in the cold.
“No other event like the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to deliver global public goods is restrictive and dangerous,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said at a ceremony on Friday (February 18). European Council, France, South Africa and WHO at the EU-African Union Summit in Brussels.
The announcement was met with excitement in Africa, where only about 12 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
“I am really pleased to see this progress,” said Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong. The way we fight the next pandemic will be very different because the continent would have produced diagnostics and vaccines. “
The development follows the creation of an mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, run by a WHO consortium in South Africa, which will share technical know-how with vaccine manufacturers in the six countries.
WHO and partners will train and help build the necessary workforce across the value chain, Tedros said, with a training center to be announced in the coming weeks.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said enabling Africa to make its own vaccines meant “mutual respect and recognition of what we can all bring to the party, investment in our economies, infrastructure investment and in many ways giving back to the continent “.
He added: “Organizations like COVAX [the initiative for equal access to COVID-19 vaccines] and Gavi [the Vaccine Alliance] have to commit to buying vaccines from our local manufacturers. They have to buy them from the locally produced hubs once they get started. ”
Ramaphosa also called on European countries to approve an intellectual property exemption on COVID technology, which has been under consideration by the World Trade Organization for over a year.
“Governments that are really serious about ensuring that the world has access to vaccines should ensure that we approve TRIPS [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] dispensation as we have presented it, ”he added.
Ultimately, the mRNA tech transfer hub will promote access to vaccines for all, strength health safety and promote self-reliance for the future, according to the WHO. It says the technology can also be used for insulin to treat diabetes, cancer drugs and potentially vaccines against diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.
“Diversification of mRNA vaccine production capacity for low- and middle-income countries should be a global health priority,” he said. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)in response to the WHO Communication.
“Several regions producing mRNA vaccines as an essential contagion against infectious diseases can strengthen the response not only to COVID-19 and future infectious diseases diseasesbut also potentially to existing ones such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. “
The German biotechnology company BioNTech announced Wednesday (February 16) that it will create available technology for mRNA production in Rwanda and Senegal in 2022 – with a fill-and-finish collaboration in Ghana. Filling-and-finishing is the process of filling vials with vaccine and completing the process of packaging the medicine for distribution.
Earlier this month, Africa, which is part of the WHO’s South Africa consortium, announced that it had developed its own version of an mRNA shot based on publicly available data on the composition of the Moderna vaccine to be tested in the coming months.
Patrick Tippoo, CEO of the Africa Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI), told SciDev.Net that although access to technology in the form of written recipes and permission to use them was important, Africa should have the confidence to secure and maintain a market for its products.
“I think without market security, it will not work because we need to know where we are going to sell and how we want to sell and what is going to happen to the products,” Tippoo explained.