The World Health Organisation has selected South Africa to establish the first mRNA technology transfer hub.

This is to boost vaccine manufacturing abilities in the region, as Africa continues to struggle in vaccine procurement.

More than 50 proposals were submitted to the WHO by companies offering to transfer technology, knowledge and skills for the mRNA hubs. The global body says it will work with the Africa Centre for Disease Control to set up the guidelines and guidance for the project aimed at increasing vaccine manufacturing capacity.

President Cyril Ramaphosa says this will help change the continent’s image and promote self-reliance.

“Today marks an important move towards the achievement of one of the critical objectives of the  African Unions Agenda 2063, the Africa we want. The ability to manufacture vaccines, medicines and other health-related commodities will help put Africa on a path to self-determination. Through this initiative and others, we will change the narrative of an Africa that is a centre of disease and poor development. We will create a narrative that celebrates our successes in reducing the burden of disease and advancing self-reliance,  also advancing sustainable development.”

President Ramaphosa participates in a joint briefing on COVID-19 vaccines:

Manufacturing could start in 9 to 12 months 

The WHO said the hub 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 technology transfer hub in South Africa.”

“The consortium involves a company Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines, which will act as the hub both by manufacturing mRNA vaccines itself and 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”.

Pfizer and BioNTech, along with Moderna are the main producers of COVID-19 vaccines using mRNA technology.

“We could see within 9-12 months vaccines being produced in Africa, South Africa,” Swaminathan said. – additional reporting by Reuters.