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Five African countries picked as early beneficiaries of mRNA tech transfer

By , Portals editor
Africa , South Africa , 18 Feb 2022

Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia will be among the first countries to receive the requisite technology to produce their own messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.

This is according to an official announcement made by the South African government, given the country’s status as the host of the continent’s first mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub for COVID-19 vaccines.

The six countries mentioned above will the first ‘spokes’ or beneficiaries of the technology via the World Health Organisation (WHO)-supported hub.

In June 2021 ITWeb reported on WHO’s confirmation that South Africa will host the hub, after the health organisation had issued an expression of interest in April to establish these hubs “to scale up production and access to COVID vaccines in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs).

According to the report, WHO describes the transfer hubs as training facilities, where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed. Interested manufacturers from LMICs can receive training and any necessary licences to the technology.

“mRNA vaccine technology has been used in shots for two of the COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. It is also regarded as easier to scale than other vaccine technologies,” ITWeb’s report stated.

In early February 2022 ITWeb quoted WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying that the hub in South Africa would increase COVID-19 vaccine production and access in LMICs.

The South African government’s statement detailed that in a joint press conference with President Cyril Ramaphosa, the WHO, the European Council and the French Presidency on the sidelines of the AU-EU Summit today, WHO's Dr Ghebreyesus said the hub is already bearing fruit and the spoke countries are now expected to benefit from technology and knowledge sharing.

“It has produced its own mRNA vaccine based on publicly available information about the composition of an existing vaccine. We expect clinical trials to start…this year with approval expected in 2024.

“We expect the benefits of this initiative will extend far beyond COVID-19 by creating a platform for vaccines against other diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and even cancer. So this is a strategic investment not just for COVID-19 but for all the major health problems that we face. The hub is not just for South Africa, but for Africa and the whole world because the spokes will be distributed all over the world,” he said.

At the same time President Ramaphosa said although the transfer of technologies from the hub is a significant step for African vaccine production, intellectual property (IP) rights challenges continue to challenge the work done at the hub.

The President reiterated his long standing call for the waiver of TRIPS agreements which prohibit self-manufacturing of certain vaccines based on the intellectual property (IP) rights placed on the technology and information needed to do so.

“Governments that are really serious about vaccine access...should ensure that we approve the TRIPS waiver as we have put forward rather than hide behind IP [and] the profitability of the originators.

“We are facing a global pandemic that will stay with us for a long time and all that has been asked for is that TRIPS waiver should be done within a set period of time so as to enable those countries that do not have easy access to vaccines to have access to vaccines. We are talking about the lives of hundreds of millions of people rather than the profitability of the few companies,” he said.

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