On Friday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – had been chosen to produce mRNA vaccines after receiving the technology from the WHO’s global mRNA vaccine hub. The mRNA technology, which is used in manufacturing Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, provokes an immune response by delivering genetic molecules containing the code for key parts of the pathogen into human cells.
“It will not take long to start manufacturing... We have already the facilities, and only need visits from experts and researchers in order to complete the rest of the procedures,” said Health Ministry Spokesperson Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar, referring to Egypt’s mRNA vaccines production.
Abdel-Ghaffar revealed meetings had already been held to develop an executive plan to turn Egypt into a regional centre for vaccine manufacture.
The WHO said it would work with the six countries chosen to develop a training and support roadmap so they can start producing vaccines as soon as possible. Training will begin in March.
The move will allow Africa to make its own jabs to fight the Covid-19 and other diseases, and as a consequence be less reliant on non-African manufacturers.
The global mRNA technology transfer hub was established in 2021 to support manufacturers in low-and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines, ensuring that they have all the necessary operating procedures and know-how to manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards, according to the WHO. In June 2021, the WHO selected a South African consortium to run the global hub serving low-and middle-income countries.
“We are confident this hub will empower African scientists and companies,” EU Chief Ursula von der Leyen said during the European Union (EU)-African Union (AU) Summit in the Belgian capital on Friday. “This is not only about production of Covid-19 vaccines,” she added, but will expand manufacturing capacity for other vaccines and products such as insulin and cancer medicines.
Currently, only one per cent of vaccines used in Africa are produced on the continent.
“More than 80 per cent of the population of Africa has yet to receive a single dose. Much of this inequity has been driven by the fact that globally, vaccine production is concentrated in a few mostly high-income countries,” WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday on the sidelines of an EU-AU Summit in Brussels.
Egypt was selected because it has a solid legislative structure, the Drug Authority Law and the Clinical Research Law, a cadre of researchers and experts, state-owned and non-state-owned factories needed for production, and a transport infrastructure capable of ensuring the delivery of vaccines across the continent, said Abdel-Ghaffar.
He also noted that Egypt already has been producing the Sinovac vaccine since June 2021, following an agreement signed in April 2021 between VACSERA and China’s Sinovac biopharmaceutical company. The vaccine was granted an emergency use licence by the Egyptian Drug Authority in August 2021.
Under the agreement, Sinovac provides VACSERA with technical assistance and training for VACSERA employees.
Egypt, which has enough vaccine stocks to inoculate 53 million citizens, began exporting locally produced Sinovac/VACSERA Covid-19 vaccine this week. On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority received an Egyptian-Chinese gift of 500,000 doses of the Egyptian-made vaccine for the Gaza Strip.
The shipment followed a presidential directive to support brotherly countries, said Abdel-Ghaffar, who added that China will supply the raw materials for 500 million to be manufactured in Egypt.
Egypt has already fully vaccinated 30 million citizens, and an additional 39 million have received their first dose.
Amid the fifth wave of the pandemic, Egypt is currently reporting around 2,000 infections daily, and according to Abdel-Ghaffar the numbers are expected to recede by the end of this month.
Egypt began selling Merck’s Covid-19 drug Molnupiravir – which received emergency use authorisation by the drug regulator in January – at government-affiliated pharmacies at a price of LE630 per package. The drug is also available at Health Ministry-affiliated hospitals free of charge.
Last week, Egypt also made Covid-19 rapid antigen testing kits available to the public at pharmacies for first time since the outbreak of the pandemic.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.