The World Health Organization is creating a global training center to help low-income countries make vaccines, cancer treatments and antibodies using the mRNA technology that has effectively been used to create COVID-19 vaccines.
At a press briefing Wednesday in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that the location of the new hub would be in South Korea and would share the mRNA technology being developed by WHO and partners in South Africa. That’s where scientists have been working to re-create the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine without receiving any help from Moderna.
As the coronavirus pandemic hits more impoverished countries with fragile health care systems, WHO authorities are scrambling for ways to save lives. Tedros said that “vaccines have helped to change the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this scientific triumph has been undermined by vast inequities in access to these lifesaving tools.”
It is the first time WHO has backed such innovative efforts to reverse-engineer a commercially sold vaccine in order to make an end-run around the pharmaceutical industry, which has essentially prioritized providing rich countries over poor in both sales and manufacturing.
The two authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccine companies — Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — have declined to share their vaccine technological know-how with WHO and its partners. If the manufacturers agree to help, the timeline to make usable shots will be much shorter.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, estimates the attempt to re-create Moderna’s vaccine without the company’s help likely will not yield any usable shots until late 2023 or even 2024.
Last week, WHO said six African countries — Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, Kenya and Tunisia — would receive the knowledge and technological instructions to make mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
Five additional countries — Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Serbia — will now receive support from the hub in South Africa, Tedros said on Wednesday.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.