Wealthy Countries Urged to Share 2 Billion Excess COVID-19 Doses, as South Africa’s mRNA Hub Prepares to Make ‘Moderna-like’ Vaccine
The South African mRNA hub aims to make Moderna-like vaccine.

Countries with high COVID-19 vaccination rates have pre-purchased over two billion excess vaccine doses, limiting the supplies available for low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).

This emerged from a meeting on Thursday between the heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization – the multilateral Task Force – and CEOs of leading vaccine manufacturing companies.

Meanwhile, the South African mRNA technology transfer hub set up in July to enable Africa to manufacture its own vaccines is moving ahead with plans to make a “Moderna-like” vaccine – despite a lack of co-operation from either mRNA manufacturer, Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.

This was confirmed to Health Policy Watch by Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Chair of the Board of the Medicines Patent Pool in Geneva and President of the French Scientific Committee on COVID-19 vaccines.

“The mRNA hub doesn’t need direct transfer of technology from Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, as enough information on production process is available publicly and as there are no patent on mRNA vaccines in any African country,” said Kieny, who recently visited South Africa to work with local hub partners.

“The hub will therefore work with technical experts to recreate a new ‘Moderna-like’ vaccine,” added Kieny.

Appeal to swap doses, deliver to COVAX and AVAT

To alleviate COVID vaccine shortages in LMICs, the task force called on wealthy countries to urgently “swap their near-term delivery schedules with COVAX and the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Force (AVAT)”, meet their dose donation pledges with “unearmarked upfront deliveries to COVAX”, and release vaccine companies from options and contracts to enable these doses to be delivered to LMICs. 

Without these urgent steps, the world is unlikely to meet the WHO’s target of vaccinating 40% of the global population by the end of the year.

“Despite adequate total global vaccine production in the aggregate, the doses are not reaching LMICs in sufficient amounts, resulting in a crisis of vaccine inequity,” the task force said.

It also appealed for transparency about the supply of vaccines, calling on vaccine manufacturers to share details on month-by-month delivery schedules for all vaccine shipments, especially for COVAX and AVAT. 

It also called on all countries to urgently address export restrictions, high tariffs and customs bottlenecks on COVID-19 vaccines, raw materials and supplies.

The task team welcomed the pharmaceutical CEOs’ willingness to ‘work collectively to end vaccine inequity” and “readiness” to form a joint technical working group with the Task Force to exchange and coordinate information on vaccine production and deliveries.

However, the big pharmaceutical companies have been unwilling to work with the mRNA hub.

‘No point’ in mRNA transfer

In response to a Health Policy Watch question, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that he didn’t see the point as the tech transfer “would take years”, and that producing mRNA vaccines was what Pfizer did. 

Kieny confirmed that the Medicines Patent Pool, WHO and others had reached out to the mRNA vaccine manufacturers “but up to this point, the companies have not been interested”.

Vaccine manufacturers are apparently wary of new manufacturers competing for raw materials and customers.

Shortly after the mRNA hub was announced, Pfizer revealed that it had made a deal with South African pharmaceutical company and hub member Biovac, to “fill and finish” around 100 million vaccines destined for Africa. 

Kieny described this as “an excellent step forward”, as Biovac will receive technology transfer from Pfizer for the fill-finish part of their mRNA vaccine, “especially as the Pfizer contract does not claim exclusivity”. 

“Biovac will therefore also become the first African manufacturer with a product resulting from technology transfer of the full production cycle from the hub,” said Kieny.

Image Credits: Gavi .

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