SA set to host Covid-19 vaccine tech transfer hub

South Africa is set to host a “technology transfer hub” for coronavirus vaccines to scale up production know-how in Africa’s worst-hit nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said Monday.

Ramaphosa said French President Emmanuel Macron and World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus would join him at a media briefing to announce the initiative at 1500 GMT.

“The briefing will focus on the establishment of the first messenger RNA technology transfer hub for Covid-19 vaccines, located in South Africa,” the presidency said in a brief statement.

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The WHO has previously set up such hubs, which provide know-how and training to local manufacturers, to boost global production of influenza vaccines.

During a visit to South Africa last month, Macron said he was pushing for faster transfer of technology to allow poorer countries to start manufacturing their own Covid-19 jabs.

Ramaphosa told the Qatar Economic Forum on Monday that “52 countries in Africa have started vaccinating, but so far only 40 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Africa — or less than two percent of Africa’s population.”

South Africa, along with India, has been pushing for a temporary waiver of vaccines’ intellectual property rights in order to speed up production.

‘Selfish, unjust, wholly unfair’

Ramaphosa has previously condemned what he calls the “vaccine apartheid” created by rich countries hoard shots, and is critical of countries that oppose the patent waiver.

“It is selfish. It is unjust, and it is wholly unfair and we’re going to continue insisting that there should be this waiver because we want to save lives,” Ramaphosa said in reply to a question at the Qatar forum.

South Africa accounts for over 35 percent of Africa’s total recorded Covid-19 cases, and is currently suffering a third wave of mass infections.

Ramaphosa said the daily caseload had soared 1,500 percent since April, when there were less than 800 cases a day, to over 13,000 in the past week.

“The climb in new cases has been extraordinarily rapid and steep,” he said in his Monday weekly newsletter.

South Africa’s third wave coincides with a struggling vaccine rollout, with just over two million of the 59 million-strong population receiving at least one dose since February.

The country has so far been administering the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and the health regulator said Monday that evaluation for approval of China’s Coronavac “is at a very advanced stage”.

Earlier this year the government bought 1.5 million AstraZeneca doses, but then sold them to other African countries over fears that they would be less effective against a local variant.

Ramaphosa was upbeat that South Africa is “going to be back on stream” and will “catch up”.

Vaccinations have so far only been open to health workers and the over-60s, with teachers due to become eligible to receive a shot from Wednesday.

Gauteng, the country’s most populous province and commercial hub, is the epicentre of the latest outbreak.

It has already seen new infections exceed the peaks of the two previous waves.

Army medical personnel are being deployed to help health workers in Gauteng, where Ramaphosa has warned that “hospitals are reaching capacity, and healthcare workers are exhausted”.

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