South Africa will lead the way in the effort to begin manufacturing COVID vaccines on the African continent, beginning with an mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub supported by the World Health Organization.
WHO said it will work with its COVAX partners, a South African consortium of biotech firms, a network of universities and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to begin the project.
The move follows a WHO appeal in April to boost vaccine access and equity by making sure that Africans are equipped to produce the vaccines themselves. The appeal came amid criticisms that developed nations were failing to share vaccine rights with the rest of the world, although vaccine donations have ramped up in recent months.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort.”
WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the news, especially because Africa’s situation has made clear the need for local production, as did President Emmanuel Macron of France.
“I am proud for Biovac and our South African partners to have been selected by WHO, as France has been supporting them for years,” said President Macron. “This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait.”
The Biovac partnership with the South African government was established in 2003 to create local vaccine manufacturing. Also partnering on the project is Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a biotech firm focused on product development, manufacturing at scale, and supply and distribution.
Image: South African Presidency file