South African President Cyril Ramaphosa joined World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on June 21, 2021 to announce a consortium aimed at manufacturing mRNA vaccines – the technology used to produce the leading Covid-19 vaccines – in South Africa. “This initiative will not just benefit South Africa,” said Ramaphosa by video link, “but working together with the Africa CDC and the WHO, we will make sure that it benefits the entire African continent.” French President Emmanuel Macron gave a video message supporting the effort.
French company Biovac will act as vaccine developer; Cape Town-based Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines will lead the manufacturing; a consortium of universities will provide academic support and rMRNA expertise; and the Africa CDC will give technical and regional support. Tedros welcomed the promise of expanding sustainable access to health products, and Ramaphosa said Africa “cannot continue to rely on vaccines from outside Africa. They never come, and people continue to die”.
WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said South Africa has both capacity and experience in conducting clinical trials, which newer vaccines in development will need – not just for Covid, but for other vaccines as well. At the same time, she said, if large pharmaceutical companies would agree to share their technology for already approved vaccines, the new African hub could be producing vaccines within 12 months. The announcement comes as Covid cases escalate across the continent. “Africa is in the midst of a full blown third wave”, says Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The sobering trajectory of surging cases should rouse everyone into urgent action. We’ve seen in India and elsewhere just how quickly Covid-19 can rebound and overwhelm health systems. So public health measures must be scaled up fast to find, test, isolate and care for patients and to quickly trace their contacts.”