COVID-19

WHO notes progress on African COVID-19 vaccine production hub

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) today said talks are in the works to establish a COVID-19 vaccine production hub in Africa, a step designed to boost vaccine supplies in the region in current and future outbreaks.

In other developments, the WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, warned that the global drop in cases has slowed, with some countries in every region experiencing rises in cases.

Technology transfer hub slated for South Africa

At today’s briefing, Tedros said the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that low-income countries can’t rely on vaccine-producing countries to supply their needs, and that relying on just a few companies to supply public health goods is limiting and dangerous.

He said the current situation has prompted WHO calls for technology sharing, licensing, and the waiver of intellectual property rights. “Enhancing local production of health products has been an area of focus for WHO for several years, but the pandemic has brought it into even sharper focus.”

In April, the WHO called for proposals to establish technology transfer hubs for COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, which teach manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries how to produce certain vaccines and give them licenses to make them. Tedros said mRNA vaccines are potentially easier to scale up and be adapted more quickly to variants.

He said the WHO received 50 proposals, half from producers and half from those interested in providing the know-how.

In today’s announcement, Tedros said the WHO is in talks with groups to establish a technology transfer hub in South Africa, with Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines acting as the manufacturing hub and as a training provider another firm called Biovac. He added that the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide guidance through the Partnership for African Vaccines Manufacturing.

“We are now in negotiations with several companies that have indicated interest in providing their mRNA technology to the hub,” he said, emphasizing that the step will yield results in the medium-term, and that in the short-term, the COVAX program for equitable vaccine access still needs more production and distribution.

On Twitter today, Lawrence Gostin, JD, with the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Georgetown University Law Center said the initiative represents the future. “LMICs don’t want charity. People want the capacities to make med resources for themselves. This is a win for SA [South Africa], for Africa, and for WHO.”

Pace of global drop slows

Also at today’s briefing, Tedros said cases have declined for 8 weeks in a row, which is good news. However, he added that new infections and deaths are still at high levels, with declines slowing in all regions and some countries in every region experiencing rapid rises.

Africa’s cases rose 40% over the past week, with deaths tripling or quadrupling in some of its countries, he said. “There are several reasons for these increases, including the increased spread of variants of concern, more social mixing, ineffective use of public health and social measures and vaccine inequity.”

In related developments, Indonesia yesterday reported 13,737 cases, the highest since January, and the government said it will order new restrictions, including limits on crowd capacity at sites that include shopping malls and markets, according to the New York Times. And Brazil’s fatality count topped 500,000 over the weekend, with experts there warning that the outbreak could worsen due to delays in vaccination and the government’s refusal to support social distancing measures, according to Reuters.

More global headlines

  • Japan today announced that domestic spectators will be allowed to attend Olympic events, allowing up to 10,000 attendees or up to half capacity, according to Reuters. The advice runs counter to recommendations from some health groups. Spectators will need to wear masks and will be discouraged from cheering. In another Olympic-related development, a vaccinated member of Uganda’s team tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Japan, according to the Washington Post.
  • Two large Indian states — Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh — reported 360,000 excess deaths during the surge months, suggesting a massive undercount of COVID deaths, according to the Washington Post.
  • Cuba’s domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, a conjugate product called Soberana 2, showed promising efficacy findings of 62% after two of three doses, according to BioCubaFarma, the state-run biopharmaceutical corporation.
  • The global total recently topped 178 million and is now at 178,470,991 with at least 3,865,805 deaths, according to the New York Times.

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