GENEVA, June 21 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that it is setting up a technology transfer hub for producing mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa, which could start manufacturing doses in 9 to 12 months.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the announcement aimed at boosting access to vaccines across the African continent, where cases and deaths had increased by almost 40% over the past week.
“Today I am delighted to announce that WHO is in discussions with a consortium of companies and institutions to establish a technology transfer hub in South Africa,” Tedros told a news conference.
“The consortium involves a company Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines, which will act as the hub both by manufacturing mRNA vaccines itself & by providing training to a manufacturer Biovac,” he said.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that there were several options on the table, mainly smaller companies and biotechs, adding: “But we are also in discussions with larger mRNA companies and hope very much they will come on board”.
“We could see within 9-12 months vaccines being produced in Africa, South Africa,” Swaminathan said.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “Through this initiative we will change the narrative of an Africa that is a centre of disease and poor development.”
Ramaphosa, referring to talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on its proposal for a waiver on intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines, added: “Today is historic and we see this as a step in the right direction but it does not distract us from our original proposal put together by India and South Africa that we should see a TRIPS waiver at the WTO.”
Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Matthias Blamont in Paris; writing by Stephanie Nebehay
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