A year after the launch of the mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub, a South African biotech company has partnered with a Belgium-based firm to develop an African Covid-19 vaccine.
South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics and Belgian Univercells will develop the first African-owned Covid-19 vaccine as part of broader efforts to reduce the continent’s dependence on other regions for vaccines.
During the signing of the agreement on Tuesday, Afrigen, based in Cape Town, said it is working to facilitate production of mRNA vaccines at more than 15 manufacturing sites in low- and middle-income countries worldwide.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that there is an urgent need to build African capacity in vaccine development and manufacturing. Without the ability to produce their own vaccines, too many countries have not been able to access them,” said Petro Terblanche, chief executive of Afrigen
Africa, which imports about 99 percent of the vaccines it needs, far behind the more affluent Nations are lagging behind in securing shots during the pandemic, with manufacturing concentrated in just a handful of countries.
The partners said they will try to develop vaccines that are cheaper to produce and easier to use stored and distributed are rural and remote places where few people have been vaccinated.
Some of the existing mRNA vaccines need to be stored in super-cold storage to maintain their effectiveness, which poses problems for some countries, trying to get the vaccines to rural areas where electricity is not available.
The group is developing an mRNA vaccine that can be used in normal en refrigerators, making it easier to store and distribute to the rural population without special equipment.
It will also collaborate with eTheRNA, a technology company with experience addressing vaccines and vaccine challenges to address cold storage.
In December, the African continent fell short of the World Health Organization (WHO) target of vaccinating 40 percent of its population.
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In January and February, according to the WHO, the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines on the continent rose by 15 percent. However, as of March, 15 countries still had not fully vaccinated 10 percent of their population, and 21 countries had only vaccinated between 10 percent and 19 percent of their population.
Only the island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles exceeded 70 percent vaccination coverage .
More than two years after the pandemic, only 13 African countries have reached the 40 percent target.
Most African countries get their vaccine supply from Unicef through the vaccine alliance Gavi.
According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), 17.6 percent of the continent’s 1.4 billion people are fully vaccinated.
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To date, the continent has received over 823 million vaccines. Of these, 593 million have been administered, accounting for 72 percent.
Over 35 million vaccines have been received in Kenya, with 31.5 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated.
According to Africa CDC more than 12 million vaccines have not been used, although the number of daily vaccinations is below 15,000 doses per day.