AP – The first African countries selected to receive the technology necessary to produce mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 are Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia, a summit meeting of European Union (EU) and African Union nations heard on Friday.
The six countries have been chosen to build vaccine production factories as part of a bid the World Health Organization (WHO) launched last year to replicate what are believed to be the most effective licenced shots against COVID-19.
Africa currently produces just one per cent of coronavirus vaccines. According to WHO figures, only 11 per cent of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated, compared with the global average of about 50 per cent.
WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the Brussels summit meeting that although more than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, billions of people still remain unvaccinated. “The tragedy, of course, is that billions of people are yet to benefit from these life-saving tools,” he said, calling for an urgent increase of local production of shots in poor countries.
It is the first time WHO has supported efforts to reverse-engineer a commercially-sold vaccine, making an end run around the pharmaceutical industry that has largely prioritised supplying rich countries over poor in both sales and manufacturing.
The United Nations-backed effort known as COVAX to distribute COVID-19 vaccines fairly to lower-income countries has missed numerous targets and only about 10 per cent of people in poorer countries have received at least one dose.
Doctors Without Borders welcomed the announcement, but cautioned that much more work was needed to recreate the mRNA vaccines and called for Moderna to help. The medical charity’s advocacy coordinator, Kate Stegeman, said that it would still take considerable time for African scientists to make Moderna’s highly technical vaccine, including creating a heat-stable version and to perform clinical trials.
“The fastest way to start vaccine production in African countries and other regions with limited vaccine production is still through full and transparent transfer of vaccine know-how of already-approved mRNA technologies to able companies,” Stegeman said.
She pointed to research showing that there are more than 100 manufacturers in Asia, Africa and Latin America that could make the vaccines.
In addition to supporting the transfer of vaccine technology, the EU has been exporting millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa. The 27-nation bloc said it has supplied Africa with almost 145 million doses, with a goal of reaching at least 450 million shots by the summer.