The global inequity in vaccine distribution throughout the pandemic triggered calls for more decentralized manufacturing and distribution solutions, especially for low- and middle-income countries.
Several announcements and agreements were made in the past year focused on the African continent, ranging from partnerships to portable sites.
But South Africa’s health minister, Dr. Joe Phaahla, told Yahoo Finance the country is also continuing to hold itself accountable.
“We may not have the financial muscle of big countries. But what is good, even as a low to middle country, we probably criticize ourselves for not investing enough in research and development. Which we believe we should do more,” Phaahla said.
South Africa, like the U.S., still finds itself dealing with racial equity gaps. Apartheid in South Africa gave wealth and advantage to white citizens and closing that gap remains a goal, Phaahla said.
“Over many years, certain universities benefited … which were only open for white people. They build a lot of capacity. Some of them have huge reserves and investments because they’ve also been linked to industries, which were largely white-controlled, to big mining companies. So when you look at the gap in terms of your top scientists, there is still a gap. That’s a gap that needs to be closed,” he said.
South Africa’s mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub, which cracked the code to Moderna’s (MRNA) COVID-19 vaccine, will start animal studies on its first COVID-19 vaccine candidate in October.
The country pushed back against Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) exporting doses made in South Africa to Europe, forcing the pharmaceutical giant to reroute doses. But a manufacturing issue with Emergent Biosolutions (EBS) caused a delay in the raw material needed to fill and finish doses in South Africa, and when doses began to arrive earlier this year, the cold chain had been broken.
Phaahla credited South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for fighting against the exports, which could have given the African continent a chance to vaccinate more quickly.
He hopes the message that South Africa is ready to grow will be heard.
“We’d want to continue to advocate and hopefully we will make better progress. At the current moment, there is some movement, but not (as) significant as we’d have wished for,” he said.
“I’m optimistic that the message is sinking in.”