Geneva: WHO lauds historic vaccine hub in South Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has lauds the efforts of South African researchers, who have set up a hub to develop mRNA-based vaccines against Covid-19.
In June last year, the WHO helped set up Africa’s first Covid mRNA vaccine technology-transfer hub in South Africa, with participants including Afrigen, the Biovac Institute and local universities. The aim was to scale up vaccine production to address those massive shortfalls in the developing world.
Earlier this month, the researchers made microlitres of the vaccine based on Moderna’s Covid shot.
Moderna’s shot was chosen to replicate because more information on its development was available publicly, compared with Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.
“I’ve just returned from South Africa yesterday, where I saw first-hand the progress underway at the WHO mRNA vaccine technology transfer Hub,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the virtual Covid-19 Small Group Minister Meeting hosted by the US Department of State, late on Monday.
“I have just witnessed the collaborative work being done at the Hub…the commitment from the government and the private sector is real who chief lauds at such a great work.
“Fostering local vaccine manufacturing capacity throughout the globe, supplemented by temporary intellectual property waivers for Covid-19 tools, will help bring this pandemic to an end and keep us all safer,” Ghebreyesus said.
Ghebreyesus noted that the “historic initiative” comes at a critical time as high vaccine coverage in some countries, “combined with the lower severity of Omicron, is driving a false narrative that the pandemic is over”.
At the same time, low vaccine coverage and low testing rates in other countries are creating the ideal conditions for new variants to emerge, the WHO chief warned.
“We can bring the pandemic under control this year — but we are at increased risk of squandering that opportunity,” he said.
So far, 116 countries are off track for WHO’s shared target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population of every country by the middle of this year.
The WHO had earlier reached out to Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech to help teach researchers in low- and middle-income countries how to make their Covid-19 vaccines. But the companies did not respond.
Moderna had previously said it would not enforce the patents on its vaccine
But more than 60 charities, campaigners and non-governmental organisations have accused Moderna of attempting to derail WHO plans to manufacture more Covid-19 vaccines in Africa, the Guardian reported.
In an open letter to the US drug maker, the organisations stated that Moderna has “filed several patents with broad claims in South Africa, prompting fears it will begin enforcing patents while Covid-19 is still endemic in Africa, effectively derailing the WHO’s plans to build African vaccine production”.
The letter, signed by organisations, including Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) along with People’s Health Movement (PHM), calls on Moderna to “act in the interests of people, not profits” by withdrawing patents and patent applications in South Africa.