The World Health Organization has established a global training centre to assist poorer countries in making vaccines, antibodies, and treatments for cancer using the same messenger RNA technology used to create COVID-19 vaccines.
On Wednesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, stated that the new hub would be located in South Korea. He also shared mRNA technology developed by WHO and South African partners. This is where scientists are trying to recreate the COVID-19 vaccination made by Moderna Inc.
Tedros stated that vaccines had helped to reverse the COVID-19 pandemic, but that this scientific triumph was undermined by inequalities in access to life-saving tools.
This is the first time WHO has supported such unconventional efforts to reverse engineer a commercially-sold vaccination. It also puts an end to the pharmaceutical industry which has long prioritized the supply of rich countries over the need for poor vaccines.
Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech, the makers of the two mRNA COVID-19 approved vaccines, declined to share their vaccine recipes or technical know-how with WHO.
WHO stated that the shared technology could lead to coronavirus vaccines as well as insulin, antibodies and other treatments for cancer and other diseases.
Dr. Soumya Swminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, estimated that attempts to recreate Moderna’s vaccine wouldn’t yield any useful shots until late next or early 2024. However, he suggested that this timeline could be significantly shortened if the manufacturer was willing to assist.
Global access to COVID-19 vaccines is extremely limited. Africa produces only 1% of the COVID-19 vaccines in the world, and just 11% of its people are immunized. Portugal, for example, has 84% of its citizens fully vaccinated and more than 59% have had a booster shot.
WHO announced last week that six African countries, including Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, would be receiving the technological know-how and knowledge necessary to produce mRNA COVID-19 vaccinations. Tedros announced Wednesday that the South Africa hub would continue to support five additional countries: Bangladesh, Indonesia Pakistan, Serbia, Vietnam, and Pakistan.
The Cape Town-based company that attempted to duplicate Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 shot earlier this year said it had made a candidate vaccine and will soon begin laboratory testing.
Moderna’s vaccine is being developed by scientists who claim there’s more information available about it in the public domain. It’s also believed to be easier to produce than the one manufactured by Pfizer BioNTech.
Public Citizen’s research director Zain Rizvi welcomed the news. He said WHO’s efforts would address the enormous global demand for mRNA vaccinations. These vaccines have been arguably the most effective in curbing COVID-19.
Rizvi stated that the WHO is a stark contrast to Moderna’s and Pfizers’ failures, who have largely hoarded technology. “WHO is pursuing a different course, which is more transparent and open.” It still needs support.
Rizvi urged the Biden administration to press international pharmaceutical companies to share COVID-19 vaccine formulae and know-how.