'It will be a game changer' - says WHO Director-General at South African mRNA Technology Transfer Hub.

Date28 February 2022

Two years ago, as the world was still coming to grips with the spread of a new coronavirus, WHO did what only WHO can do - we convened hundreds of scientists from around the world to identify the most urgent priorities in research and development.

Among them was the development of vaccines.

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of that first meeting convened by WHO.

It's incredible to think that within a year of that meeting, the first vaccines were approved, and just two years later, more than 10 billion doses have been administered globally.

The development and approval of not one, but several vaccines, in record time is an extraordinary scientific triumph that sets a new standard.

There can be no doubt that vaccines have saved countless lives, are helping to turn the tide on the pandemic, and are now giving many countries the confidence to relax restrictions.

But as you know, this scientific triumph has been marred by vast inequities in access.

More than half the world's population is now fully vaccinated. And yet 84% of the population of Africa is yet to receive a single dose.

Much of this inequity has been driven by the fact that globally, vaccine production is concentrated in a few mostly high-income countries.

One of the most obvious lessons of the pandemic, therefore, is the urgent need to increase local production of vaccines, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

That's why, in April last year, WHO issued a call for expressions of interest for establishing a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines.

The turnout of applications was high but South Africa was chosen and established here in South Africa, as a partnership between WHO, Afrigen Biologics, the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa, or Biovac, the South African Medical Research Council, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Medicines Patent Pool.

We very much appreciate the strong support for the hub from Belgium, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany and Norway.

And it's already producing results, with Afrigen's announcement last week that it has produced its own mRNA vaccine, based on publicly available information about the composition of an existing vaccine. And the mRNA technology is not just for COVID. It will be for malaria, TB and HIV - it will be a game changer.

We expect this vaccine to be more suited to the contexts in which it will be used, with fewer storage constraints and at a lower price.


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