WHO setting up hub to make COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa

MLUNGISI MBELE / AFP

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is setting up a hub in South Africa to give companies from poor and middle-income countries the know-how and licences to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

The "tech transfer hub" could make it possible for African companies to begin manufacturing mRNA vaccines - the advanced technology now used in shots from Pfizer and Moderna - in as little as 9-12 months, the WHO said.

It announced two companies had signed up so far, and said it was in talks with Pfizer and Moderna about participating.

"Through this initiative we will change the narrative of an Africa that is a centre of disease and poor development," said President Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking by video link at the WHO press conference where the programme was launched.

The WHO has long been calling for rich countries to share vaccine technology. The initiative to help African countries produce vaccines is especially urgent at a time when cases and deaths on the continent have increased by almost 40 per cent 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," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

In a statement, the WHO described the hub as a training facility, "where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed. Interested manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries can receive training and any necessary licenses to the technology."

The two South African companies participating so far were Afrigen Biologics, described as a development company, and Biovac, described as a manufacturer.

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