Activist countries

Six African countries to receive mRNA vaccine technology

The six countries have been chosen to build vaccine production plants as part of a bid the World Health Organization launched last year to replicate what are believed to be the most licensed vaccines effective against COVID-19.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the Brussels summit that although more than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, billions of people are still unvaccinated.

“The tragedy, of course, is that billions of people still do not benefit from these vital tools,” he said, calling for an urgent increase in local vaccine production in poor countries.

This is the first time the WHO has supported efforts to reverse-engineer a commercial vaccine, ending the pharmaceutical industry that has largely prioritized supplies to wealthy countries over countries. poor, both in sales and manufacturing.

The UN-backed effort known as COVAX to equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries has missed many targets and only around 10% of people in the poorest countries have received at least one dose .

Earlier this year, the Cape Town company attempting to replicate Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine said it had successfully manufactured a vaccine candidate that will begin laboratory testing soon. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, makers of the two licensed mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, declined to share their vaccine recipe or technological know-how with the WHO and its partners.

Doctors Without Borders welcomed the announcement, but warned that much more work was needed to recreate mRNA vaccines and called on Moderna to help. Kate Stegeman, the medical charity’s advocacy coordinator, said it would still take a long time for African scientists to manufacture Moderna’s highly technical vaccine, including creating a heat-stable version, and to carry out clinical trials. .

“The fastest way to start vaccine production in African countries and other regions with limited vaccine production remains the full and transparent transfer of vaccine know-how from already approved mRNA technologies to capable companies,” Stegeman said.

She pointed to research showing that there are more than 100 manufacturers in Asia, Africa and Latin America who could make the vaccines.

Earlier this week, BioNTech said it would start sending shipping container-sized factories to African countries to help them start manufacturing their COVID-19 vaccine with European personnel, in what some activists called it a “neocolonial coup” to maintain control.

Although Moderna has pledged not to sue the companies for infringing on its coronavirus vaccine patents, it recently filed claims for several extended patents in South Africa. The move raised fears that the company could start enforcing patents as COVID-19 continues to spread in Africa, undermining efforts to boost vaccine production in Africa.

In addition to supporting vaccine technology transfer, the EU has exported millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Africa. The 27-nation bloc said it had supplied Africa with nearly 145 million doses, with a target of reaching at least 450 million doses by the summer.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Friday’s announcement “signifies mutual respect, mutual recognition” of what African nations can contribute as well as investment in the continent.

But Ramaphosa repeated his call for the lifting of patent protections on coronavirus vaccines which he said would allow more manufacturers to produce the vaccines. The EU remains opposed to this decision, favoring instead individual agreements with companies for the transfer of technology and know-how.

The decision rests with the 164 members of the World Trade Organization. If only one country votes against waiving patent protection, the proposal will fail.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said patent talks should continue as expanding vaccinations globally is essential.

“Otherwise we’ll see more variants and the next variant might be even (more) dangerous than (the ones) we’ve seen,” Marin said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said officials from the two continents would continue to work to reach a common position and meet again later this spring.

“The goal is clear, we have to hold on,” she said. “Europe wants to remain Africa’s first partner, a faithful partner, and we are now moving from words to deeds.”


Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this story


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