Coronavirus Pandemic, Technology, Science, Business, World Health Organization, Health, Cape Town, Pandemics, Africa, United Nations, Coronavirus Vaccine, South Africa

Coronavirus Pandemic, Technology

Africa tries to end vaccine inequity by replicating its own

Fewer than 1% of the world’s coronavirus vaccines have gone to poor countries. Scientists in South Africa are trying to replicate Moderna’s shot in an effort to change that.

10/24/2021 2:44:00 PM

Fewer than 1% of the world’s coronavirus vaccine s have gone to poor countries. Scientists in South Africa are trying to replicate Moderna’s shot in an effort to change that.

CAPE TOWN , South Africa (AP) — In a pair of Cape Town warehouses converted into a maze of airlocked sterile rooms, young scientists are assembling and calibrating the equipment needed to reverse engineer a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to reach South Africa and most of the world's poorest people.

to share, including Biden administration demands on Moderna, has led nowhere.Until now, WHO has never directly taken part in replicating a novel vaccine for current global use over the objections of the original developers. The Cape Town hub is intended to expand access to the novel messenger RNA technology that Moderna, as well as Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, used in their vaccines.

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“This is the first time we’re doing it to this level, because of the urgency and also because of the novelty of this technology,” said Martin Friede, a WHO vaccine research coordinator who is helping direct the hub.Dr. Tom Frieden, the former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has described the world as “being held hostage” by Moderna and Pfizer, whose vaccines are considered the most effective against COVID-19. The novel mRNA process uses the genetic code for the spike protein of the coronavirus and is thought to trigger a better immune response than traditional vaccines.

Arguing that American taxpayers largely funded Moderna’s vaccine development, the Biden administration has insisted the company must expand production to help supply developing nations. The global shortfall through 2022 is estimated at 500 million and 4 billion doses, depending on how many other vaccines come on the market.

“The United States government has played a very substantial role in making Moderna the company it is,” said David Kessler, the head of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. program to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development.Kessler would not say how far the administration would go in pressing the company. “They understand what we expect to happen,” he said.

Moderna has pledged to build a vaccine factory in Africa at some point in the future. But after pleading with drugmakers to share their recipes, raw materials and technological know-how, some poorer countries are done waiting.Afrigen Managing Director Petro Terblanche said the Cape Town company is aiming to have a version of the Moderna vaccine ready for testing in people within a year and scaled up for commercial production not long after.

“We have a lot of competition coming from Big Pharma. They don’t want to see us succeed,” Terblanche said. “They are already starting to say that we don’t have the capability to do this. We are going to show them.”If the team in South Africa succeeds in making a version of Moderna’s vaccine, the information will be publicly released for use by others, Terblanche said. Such sharing is closer to an approach U.S. President Joe Biden championed in the spring and the pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes.

Commercial production is the point at which intellectual property could become an issue. Moderna has said it would not pursue legal action against a company for infringing on its vaccine rights, but neither has it offered to help companies that have volunteered to make its mRNA shot.

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Chairman Noubar Afeyansaid Moderna determined it would be better to expand production itself than to share technology and plans to deliver billions of additional doses next year.“Within the next six to nine months, the most reliable way to make high-quality vaccines and in an efficient way is going to be if we make them,” Afeyan said.

Zoltan Kis, an expert in messenger RNA vaccines at Britain’s University of Sheffield, said reproducing Moderna’s vaccine is “doable” but the task would be far easier if the company shared its expertise. Kis estimated the process involves fewer than a dozen major steps. But certain procedures are tricky, such as sealing the fragile messenger RNA in lipid nanoparticles, he said.

“It’s like a very complicated cooking recipe,” he said. “Having the recipe would be very, very helpful, and it would also help if someone could show you how to do it.”A U.N.-backed public health organization still hopes to persuade Moderna that its approach to providing vaccines for poorer countries misses the mark. Formed in 2010, the Medicines Patent Pool initially focused on convincing pharmaceutical companies to share patents for AIDS drugs.

“It’s not about outsiders helping Africa,” Executive Director Charles Gore said of the South Africa vaccine hub. “Africa wants to be empowered, and that’s what this is about.”It will eventually fall to Gore to try to resolve the intellectual property question. Work to recreate Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is protected as research, so a potential dispute would surround steps to sell a replicated version commercially, he said.

“It’s about persuading Moderna to work with us rather than using other methods,” Gore said.He said the Medicines Patent Pool repeatedly tried but failed to convince Pfizer and BioNTech to even discuss sharing their formulas.Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is among the members of Congress backing a bill that calls on the United States to invest more in making and distributing COVID-19 vaccines in low- and middle-income countries, said reverse engineering isn’t going to happen fast enough to keep the virus from mutating and spreading further.

“We need to show some hustle. We have to show a sense of urgency, and I’m not seeing that urgency,” he said. “Either we end this pandemic or we muddle our way through.”Campaigners argue the meager amount of vaccines available to poorer countries through donations, COVAX and purchases suggests the Western-dominated pharmaceutical industry is broken.

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“The enemy to these corporations is losing their potential profit down the line,” Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer of the global health nonprofit Partners in Health, said. “The enemy isn’t the virus, the enemy isn’t suffering.”Back in Cape Town, the promise of using mRNA technology against other diseases motivates the young scientists.

“The excitement is around learning how we harness mRNA technology to develop a COVID-19 vaccine,” Caryn Fenner, Afrigen’s technical director, said. But more important, Fenner said, “is not only using the mRNA platform for COVID, but for beyond COVID.”

___Cheng reported from London; Hinnant reported from Paris. Read more: The Associated Press »

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Maybe Dolly could put in a good word for them… moderna_tx , I thought the point was to SAVE lives? Const_Overhaul We need to use the Defense Production Act on Moderna and force them to act, or Nationalize them. StopGQP Shame Perfect, tell them like it is. Absolutely horrendous that they would even think to keep the ingredients a secret. Use the government to strong arm them and release the vaccine for free.

If it were just about the vaccine why aren’t they just reverse-engineering the AstraZeneca version? It doesn’t require cold refrigeration. StopGQP This is so infuriating, this country won't get the vaccine, and another country has to steal the tech cause they can't get the vaccine usashithole US taxpayers funded it, a few individuals became billionaires. America…

It is a global pandemic that needs to be eradicated. These companies must share intellectual properties as the President wanted so we can stop this pandemic. I was vaccinated with Moderna and am grateful. Now go help the rest of the world especially Africa. ShameModerna Greed gets in the way for the betterment of the Human Race.

I bet the Trump family are invested heavily in Moderna.

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Every scientist on the planet, should help this South African scientist to be able to replicate Moderna vaccine, That can be administered too poor countries on the planet. They should be held financially. Professor Isagholian,Virology and immunology Get a job poor countries. How many deaths in Russia could have been avoided if WHO and EMA wouldn´t have refused Sputnik vaccine authorization?

What could go wrong..? They shouldn’t have to try to replicate the vaccine, it should be given to everyone for free. IT’S SAD THAT CAPITALISM PRIORITIZES PROFIT OVER DEATH AND SUFFERING. Too bad all of America's vax deniers aren't residents of South Africa but something tells me if they were, they'd be clamoring for it saying 'it's ma raght' to be vaccinated.

Isn’t Moderna the one Dolly Parton DONATED a million dollars to help develop? Why can’t pharma help them by giving them the formulation info? Greedy bastards. THIS is the real conspiracy. Certain parts of the world just being left out, as always. Because there's no profit to be made in abolishing IP rights.

The patents need to be released Well, it’s obviously doomed for failure since the reason we didn’t let the patents go was because developing countries wouldn’t be able to make the vaccine right! It’s not racist at all to think puny developing countries couldn’t do what big, strong white countries can do, right?

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This is unbelievable & shocking. Is it WHO that was to coordinate distribution? Sins of the pharmaceutical companies that ignore the poor. GREED😡 We need to do better.

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