The World Health Organization is establishing a worldwide training center to assist developing nations in developing vaccines, antibodies, and cancer therapies using the same messenger RNA technology that was used to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the new centre would be in South Korea and will share mRNA technology created by WHO and partners in South Africa, where scientists are attempting to reproduce the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Moderna Inc. during a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. That work is being carried out without the assistance of Moderna.
“Vaccines have helped to shift the path of the COVID-19 epidemic, but massive discrepancies in access to these life-saving tools have compromised this scientific success,” Tedros added.
It’s the first time WHO has backed such unconventional attempts to reverse-engineer a commercially available vaccine, thus circumventing the pharmaceutical sector, which has largely favored affluent countries above poor countries in both sales and manufacture.
The producers of the two approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, have declined to share their vaccine formula or technological know-how with WHO and its partners.
The WHO stated that the common technology may be used to develop not only coronavirus vaccines, but also antibodies, insulin, and therapies for illnesses such as malaria and cancer.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s head scientist, estimated that recreating Moderna’s vaccine would take until late next year or maybe 2024 to produce useable injections, but that timescale might be cut in half if the manufacturer agreed to cooperate.
Access of COVID-19 vaccinations is quite uneven over the world. Only 1% of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines are produced in Africa, and only around 11% of the population is inoculated. A European country like Portugal, on the other hand, has 84 percent of its population completely vaccinated, with over 59 percent receiving a booster dose.
Six African nations — Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia — were given the expertise and technological know-how to create mRNA COVID-19 vaccines last week, according to the WHO. Tedros announced on Wednesday that the South African hub will now service five more countries: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Vietnam.
Earlier this year, a Cape Town firm aiming to recreate Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 injection said that it has created a candidate vaccine that will shortly begin laboratory testing.
Moderna’s vaccine, according to scientists working on it, has more information available in the public domain and is thought to be slightly easier to develop than Pfizer- BioNTech’s.
WHO’s efforts will address the massive worldwide demand for mRNA vaccinations, which have proved to be perhaps the most successful at controlling COVID-19, according to Zain Rizvi, research director at the advocacy organization Public Citizen.
“(WHO) stands in sharp contrast to the world’s failures, such as Moderna and Pfizer, who have mostly hoarded the technology,” Rizvi added. “The World Health Organization is creating a new path that is more open and transparent. But it still need assistance.”
Rizvi urged the Biden administration to put pressure on multinational pharmaceutical companies to disclose their COVID-19 vaccine formulations and expertise.