South Africa to host world’s first Covid-19 vaccine technology transfer hub

Initiative aims to scale up Africa’s access to life-saving inoculations against the disease

The WHO says the programme seeks to kickstart Africa’s vaccines industry and boost the continent’s pandemic preparedness at a time when it is in desperate need of assistance. Photograph: AP

The WHO says the programme seeks to kickstart Africa’s vaccines industry and boost the continent’s pandemic preparedness at a time when it is in desperate need of assistance. Photograph: AP

 

South Africa will host the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine technology transfer hub to scale up Africa’s access to life-saving inoculations against the disease, the World Health Organisation has announced.

The initiative will see expert skills transferred from developed nations to local pharmaceutical manufacturers in South Africa that want to produce Covid-19 vaccines for local and regional distribution.

The WHO says the programme seeks to kickstart Africa’s vaccines industry and boost the continent’s pandemic preparedness at a time when it is in desperate need of assistance.

It is also part of a broader WHO plan to develop knowledge transfer hubs around the world in order to expand the capacity of more low and middle-income countries to produce their own Covid-19 vaccines.

However, officials have warned that the development of the hub in South Africa will not stop the virus from devastating Africa in the short term, as it will take up to a year to establish, and a third wave of Covid-19 has already begun across the continent.

Covid-19 infections and deaths across Africa have surged by almost 40 per cent over the past week, according to WHO officials, while deaths have tripled or quadrupled in some countries.

Despite this, Africa’s 54 nations have been left without access to Covid-19 vaccines for months while rich nations have acquired the majority of the available supply, according to the WHO.

Further hubs

The South Africa-based hub will initially prioritise the transfer of the mRNA technology, which is used in the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, but it could expand to other technological approaches to tackling the disease in the future.

South African biotechnology company Afrigen, in partnership with Biovac, a public-private partnership vaccine manufacturing initiative, will be the first recipients of mRNA vaccine technology under the initiative, according to the WHO.

Speaking at the virtual launch of the hub on Monday evening, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said development was great news for Africa, which has the least access to Covid-19 vaccines globally.

Two further similar hubs are also expected to be created in Africa under the WHO programme, with Senegal and Nigeria currently under consideration to host them.

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa said the establishment of the technology transfer hub in his country was a step in the right direction, but more needed to be done to help developing nations access vaccines.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

He repeated his call for an end to the “vaccine nationalism” that he said had emerged in developed countries, saying it was essential that Africa manufacture its own vaccines as soon as possible, as supplies from the North were just not forthcoming.