African countries to get mRNA vaccine technology in WHO project

  • Chosen Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia
  • mRNA used by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna for COVID-19 imaging
  • The agreement was announced at the EU-African Union summit in Brussels

CAPE TOWN, Feb 18 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said Friday that 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 mRNA vaccines.

The technology transfer project, launched last year in Cape Town, aims to help low- and middle-income countries produce mRNA vaccines on a large scale and in line with international standards.

mRNA is an advanced technology used by companies such as Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) and Moderna (MRNA.O) for COVID-19 imaging.

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WHO has set up its global mRNA transfer center following large-scale purchases of vaccines by rich countries and companies, prioritizing sales to governments that could pay the highest price. This has pushed low- and middle-income countries back on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last June, the WHO selected a consortium of South African companies to manage the global mRNA center, and Afrigen Biologics later used the publicly available Moderna vaccine sequence to produce its own version of the American company from COVID-19. The first approval of doses produced by Afrigen can only be obtained in 2024, the WHO said. read on

WHO Director-General Tedras Adhanom Gebreies said the pandemic, more than any other event, demonstrated how dependence on multiple companies in the supply of global public goods is both limited and dangerous.

“In the medium and long term, the best way to address health emergencies and achieve universal health coverage is to significantly increase the capacity of all regions to produce essential health products,” he said in a statement.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for a global COVAX vaccine distribution scheme and the GAVI vaccine alliance to buy vaccines from local production centers.

“The lack of a market for vaccines made in Africa should worry us all,” Ramaphosa told a news conference on the sidelines of the European Union-African Union (AU) summit in Brussels.

“Organizations like COVAX and GAVI should commit to buying vaccines from local manufacturers, not going beyond those centers that have been set up.”

Senegalese President Mackie Sal said: “Our goal is, of course, to ensure that 60% of vaccines administered in Africa … are also produced in Africa.”

Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolanda Makola told Reuters that the government was working with BioNTech, WHO and the AU on the production of mRNA vaccines, citing an agreement signed by BionTech with Kigali and the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal.

Makola did not answer directly whether Rwanda had applied to participate in the WHO technology transfer project.

Designed, LED, belongs to Africa

The hub has already set up production of mRNA vaccines on a laboratory scale and is working on commercial production. Training of recipient countries will begin in March 2022.

“This is an African-led, African-led mRNA technology, supported by the European team,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

Primarily created in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the transmission center could expand production capacity to combat diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria in Africa.

The first recipient of mRNA technology transfer is a consortium partner and part of South Africa’s state-owned vaccine maker Biovac, which will mass-produce the vaccine once it passes the necessary safety and regulatory barriers.

Other production “spokes” in the WHO concept of “hub and spokes” include Argentina and Brazil.

The mRNA center in South Africa has a global approach, serving not only Africa but the world. To date, more than 20 countries have requested access to the technology transfer center, the WHO said.

Kate Stegemann, coordinator for the promotion of the international aid organization “Doctors Without Borders”, called the announcement a “desirable milestone.”

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Reportage by Wendel Roelf in Cape Town, Alexander Winning in Johannesburg, Maggie Fick in Nairobi and Clement Uviringiman in Kigali; Author: James Macharia Chege Edited by Gareth Jones, Barbara Lewis and Francis Carey

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