WHO to create first ever technology transfer hub for Covid vaccines

Photo: EPA Russian diamond mining giant Alrosa Group donates Sputnik V vaccines at the State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, 11 June 2021.

The World Health Organization is in talks to create the first-ever technology transfer hub for coronavirus vaccines in South Africa, seeking to boost supply to the continent that’s desperately in need of Covid-19 shots, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, the head of the UN agency announced. The new consortium will include drugmakers Biovac and Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a network of universities and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. They will develop training facilities for other vaccine makers to make shots that use a genetic code of the spike protein, known as mRNA vaccines, AP reported.

“We are now in discussions with several companies that have indicated interest in providing their mRNA technology,” Tedros said at a virtual press briefing on Monday. That technology is used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Africa will soon be able to “take responsibility for the health of our people,” as a result of the new WHO-backed technology transfer hub, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in the press briefing.

Numerous factories in Canada, Bangladesh, Denmark and elsewhere have previously called for companies to immediately share their technology, saying their idle production lines could be churning out millions of doses if they weren’t hampered by intellectual property and other restrictions.

More than 1bn coronavirus vaccines have been administered globally, but fewer than 1% have been in poor countries. South Africa accounts for nearly 40% of Africa’s total recorded COVID-19 infections and is currently suffering a rapid surge, but vaccine rollout has been slow, marked by delayed deliveries among other factors.

South Africa currently does not manufacture any COVID-19 vaccines from scratch, but its Aspen Pharmacare assembles the Johnson & Johnson shot by blending large batches of the ingredients sent by J&J and then putting the product in vials and packaging them, a process known as fill and finish.

With dozens of countries desperately waiting for more doses after the COVAX initiative, a U.N.-backed plan to distribute vaccines to poor countries faltered in recent months, the WHO has been trying to persuade rich countries to donate vaccines once their most vulnerable populations are immunized. But Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, acknowledged that countries have mostly declined to share vaccines immediately. He added that while transferring vaccine technology will help in the medium to long term, it won’t help stem the current spike in infections.

 

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