The UN’s global health chief applauded the official opening of Africa’s first mRNA vaccine hub on Thursday and hailed it as a historic step toward enabling underdeveloped nations to access life-saving vaccinations.
The facility was built in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2021 as a result of the success of the ground-breaking anti-Covid vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated at a press conference to mark the inauguration that “this precious project…will bring a paradigm shift in addressing the serious problem we faced, the equity problem, during the pandemic, so (that) it’s not repeated again.”
South Africa’s minister of science and innovation, Blade Nzimande, stated that at the time, South Africa and the rest of the developing world were last in line for access to the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.
The hub is currently scaling up and validating the production of Moderna vaccines at a commercial scale after having already established mRNA vaccine production at a laboratory scale.
It is simpler to store the vaccine in low- and middle-income environments where extreme refrigeration can be difficult because it can be kept at relatively warm temperatures.
The hub also serves as a resource for manufacturers in less developed nations, assisting them in learning how to produce mRNA vaccines in large quantities and in accordance with international standards.
Early in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, exposing Africa’s heavy reliance on imported vaccines.
According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only slightly more than half of the 1.2 billion people on the continent have received their full dose of coronavirus vaccination.
By introducing genetic molecules containing the code for essential components of a pathogen into human cells, mRNA-based vaccines stimulate an immune response.
The Covid-19 pandemic served as an essential testing ground for the developing technology, showing how a safe and effective vaccine could be developed in a matter of months as opposed to years for conventional vaccines.
The Cape Town project was established with assistance from the WHO and is managed by the South African Medical Research Council, biotechnology company Afrigen, and biopharmaceutical company Biovac.
The hub could increase production capacity for additional drugs and products like insulin to treat diabetes, cancer treatments, and perhaps even vaccines for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.
With support primarily from the European Union, France, Germany, and Canada, funding to date totals $117 million.