South Africa is moving forward with plans to produce mRNA vaccines at a facility in Cape Town, where leaders including Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at the technology hub facility launched by biotech firm Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines.
Afrigen has successfully established a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing process and is scaling it up, said WHO in a statement. The first vaccine batches will be used in clinical trials as Afrigen continues with training and technology transfer.
South African officials say their plans to produce COVID-19 vaccines are just the beginning. Blade Nzimande, the minister for Higher Education and Science, said new treatments and prevention for malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS might develop from the same technologies that evolve from the partnerships with Afrigen.
Tedros highlighted how the pandemic served to drive a commitment to equity in both the access and manufacture of vaccines in low- and middle-income countries (LICs). Even now, 69.7% of the global population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while the level remained below 30% in LICs, according to March 2023 data.
The advances celebrated in South Africa, where the vaccine effort was first announced in 2021, will help to close the gap. “I am immensely proud of the achievement of all those involved in this project; in less than two years we have shown that when we work collaboratively, we succeed collectively,” said Tedros.
Total funding for the project is US$117 million to date, with representatives from donor nation France and counterparts from Belgium, Germany, Norway and Canada on hand. Also present were African Union and European Union leaders, as well as project partners from Biovac and the Medicines Patent Pool.
By Laureen Fagan