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South Africa could produce first Covid-19 mRNA vaccines within 15 months

LONDON, (The Southern African Times) – A facility in Cape Town could produce Africa’s first vaccines using messenger RNA, the breakthrough science of the global inoculation effort against Covid-19, within 15 months of signing a technology transfer agreement.

The World Health Organization this week announced it will establish its first-ever mRNA technology transfer hub in the city in an agreement with Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines and the Biovac Institute.

The global health body is in talks with potential partners who would work with the South African companies to produce the vaccines to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in the world’s least-vaccinated continent.

While talks are being held with large companies that already have mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, most negotiations are taking place with smaller firms that are still trialling the shots, Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said.

Pfizer, together with its partner BioNTech, and Moderna are the two groups globally with approved mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.

“The target given to us, which is quite ambitious, is 12 months to put the first candidate into clinical trials from the day of technology transfer signing,” and those trials could take about three months, said Petro Terblanche, the managing director of Afrigen, in an interview on Friday.

“That’s only possible if the technology partner is one of the big gorillas” and will take a bit longer if it’s a small company, she said.

The push by the WHO is an attempt to boost vaccine manufacturing in Africa as richer nations have hoarded Covid-19 inoculations, leaving few for the continent, which is in the grip of a third wave of coronavirus infections.

While the US and the UK have fully vaccinated more than 45% of their populations, just more than 1% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have received a full course of Covid-19 shots.

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