Indonesia and Bangladesh Reveal Massive Untapped Vaccine Production Capacity at C-TAP Anniversary
Indonesia’s Health Minister, Budi Gunadi Sadikin

Indonesia could manufacture 550 million COVID-19 vaccine doses a year if pharmaceutical companies were prepared to share the know-how, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a World Health Organization event Friday.

Sadikin was addressing the first anniversary of the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), set up to encourage countries and manufacturers of COVID-19 products to voluntarily share knowledge, intellectual property and data to facilitate the rapid expansion of manufacturing.

C-TAP has failed to live up to expectations largely because large pharmaceutical companies have been unwilling to join it, preferring to pursue lucrative bilateral deals with wealthy countries instead.

“We’re holding the door open for pharmaceutical companies that have become household names, although too few households have benefited from the lifesaving tools they have developed,” Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“They control the [intellectual property] that can save lives today, end this pandemic soon, and prevent future epidemics from spiralling out of control and undermining health economies and national security.”

Vaccines with Halal Certificates

Sadikin said Indonesia is the largest vaccine manufacturer in Southeast Asia, and has the capacity to “upscale our vaccine productions to meet regional and global demand”. What it lacks, he said, is the know-how and technology needed to make some COVID-19 vaccines, particularly mRNA vaccines.

“Currently, we have six manufacturers with a production capacity of 550 million doses per annum,” said Sadikin. In addition, he said, the Indonesian vaccines would come with halal certificates, which are crucial in some vaccination programmes. 

Abdul Muktadir, Managing Director of Incepta Pharmaceuticals in Bangladesh, said his company was also ready to produce vaccines if know-how and technology were shared.

“We have seen some statements like ‘Low- and middle-income countries do not have the ability to acquire the technology and deliver quality products,’ ” he said. Yet he pointed out that the vast majority of the world’s medicines are made by generic companies, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Bilateral Deals Trump Multilateral Sharing

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada said that C-TAP – which his country has championed – was intended to foster multilateral sharing of information. But instead, he said, the world contends with “overcoming the challenges generated by bilateral negotiations and property rights”.

WHO expects more countries and manufacturers will join C-TAP, and is currently in talks with two vaccine manufacturers and five therapeutics companies, said Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines.

Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha González Laya also announced at the event that her country had decided to join the 42 current C-TAP members, and said she hopes this will help to boost global vaccine production.

Jesús Marco, vice-president of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), elaborated on this hope, saying that his country would share CSIC technologies and was considering licensing its vaccine candidates on a “non-exclusive basis”.

Untapped Vaccine Manufacturing Potentia

“We succeeded in developing vaccines at an unusual speed, but we failed to share COVID-19-related technology and knowledge and to speed up their production,” said Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir. “According to UNICEF, only 43% of the world production capacity for approved vaccines is used.”

Referring to the capacity in Indonesia and Bangladesh, WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that the two countries have the “capacity, interest, and willingness to ramp up production”. 

“There’s really a call for those who have the know-how and the capacity to come and collaborate with us at the Manufacturing Task Force and through C-TAP,” she said.

Meanwhile, Health Access International (HAI) said that the “high expectations of C-TAP to halt the global catastrophe as it unfolds have not been realised”. 

“This is largely down to the refusal of the pharmaceutical industry to engage, preferring instead to protect short-term profits over global public health,” said HAI, which also blamed countries for lack of will to make C-TAP work.

“The need for an effective and functioning C-TAP remains as strong today as it did last year, as evidenced by the insufficient manufacturing capacity of patent holders to deliver on signed contracts and the difficulties endured by the COVAX facility to secure enough vaccine doses for LMICs,” the HAI statement said. 

“There is still a time and place for C-TAP within the global response to COVID-19, and that time is now. WHO should lead the efforts to secure the implementation of a game-changing mechanisms – if we can just agree that status quo is no longer acceptable.”

Image Credits: AstraZeneca.

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