South Africa, France plan Africa’s first mRNA COVID-19 vaccine facility with WHO

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South Africa, France and the World Health Organization are set to announce plans for Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine facility using messenger RNA, the breakthrough technology of the global inoculation effort.

The “technology transfer hub” will be located in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement on Monday. The announcement is scheduled for 5 p.m. local time.

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South Africa, along with India, has been at the forefront of a campaign at the World Trade Organization to push pharmaceutical companies to waive their intellectual property rights and share their technology for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to help end the pandemic. A lack of manufacturing capacity in Africa is seen as one of the barriers to inoculating the continent.

Messenger RNA, or mRNA, has been used for the first time to make vaccines during the coronavirus health crisis. Moderna Inc. of the US and a combination of Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech SE have used the technology to make doses, which some trials have shown to be more effective than more traditionally made versions.

South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. and the state-owned BioVac Institute can produce vaccines in the country but only have the ability to package the shots rather than make the raw materials.

BioVac, based in Cape Town, makes a pediatric vaccine under license from France’s Sanofi Pasteur and has plans to build a COVID-19-focused plant in a partnership with ImmunityBio Inc. of the US.

Sanofi is working to produce its own mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, with early trial results expected in the third quarter of this year. It also plans to make doses using the technology on behalf of other companies.

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