South African Firm Makes Africa’s First mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine

In this file photograph taken on June 29, 2021, a medical official holds a vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Quimper, western France. Fred TANNEAU / AFP
In this file photograph taken on June 29, 2021, a medical official holds a vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Quimper, western France. Fred TANNEAU / AFP


A South African biotech firm said Thursday it has produced the first mRNA Covid vaccine made on the continent using Moderna’s sequence and that it will be ready for clinical trials in November.

Cape Town-based Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is leading the pilot project, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the COVAX initiative, to tweak Moderna’s shot.

“At laboratory scale we have a vaccine that we now need to test,” Afrigen’s managing director Petro Terblanche, told AFP, adding that the first shot was ready during the second week of January.

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Tests on animals will start next month, “but the human studies will only start around November 2022,” she said after meeting a group of officials sponsoring the project.

Afrigen researchers sequenced the publicly available genetic code that Moderna used to make their vaccine, made the DNA and the RNA, and produced their own shot.

“We are the first to take the sequence developed by Stanford University and used by Moderna for their great vaccine, to design and develop a vaccine produced at laboratory scale,” she said.

And “we have completed the process from the design to a final formulation, but it’s small scale, but it’s a good start, it’s a fabulous start,” the laboratory chief said.

“This is the first yet very important step in empowering low- and middle-income countries to create a fully integrated vaccine production sector.”

She spoke after the UN-backed global Medicines Patent Pool gave the firm a 39 million euro ($45 million) grant.

Their mRNA vaccine can be kept at warmer temperatures, making it easier to store in low- and middle-income settings. The original jab requires expensive -25°C to -15°C refrigeration.

‘Health security, vaccine equity’

Charles Gore, MPP’s executive director, said in a statement that his organisation was “delighted to support Afrigen and its African partners to greatly expand local manufacturing capacity and reduce today’s gross inequity.”

The grant will cover the technology transfer hub’s work for five years, through 2026.

The French government funds the MPP’s activities linked to the hub.

“We will keep supporting this project… it’s a very important one for the world and for Africa,” the French ambassador to Pretoria, Aurelien Lechevallier, said after touring the lab.

The MPP is an international organisation that supports development of medicines for low- and middle-income countries.

Set up in July, the tech transfer hub will train other countries and hand out production licences to poor nations left out in the race for the life-saving shots.

“Its aim is to allow for greater and more diversified vaccine manufacturing capability, strengthen African regional health security and respond more equitably” to the current and future pandemics, a statement said.

Africa is the least vaccinated continent in the world.

More than a year after the world’s first Covid shot was administered and two years into the pandemic itself, just 11.3 percent of Africans have been fully immunised.

The problem has exposed Africa’s huge dependence on imported vaccines and its tech weakness compared with Europe, China and the United States.

To date only one percent of the vaccines used in Africa are produced on the continent of some 1.3 billion people, which has reported some 239,000 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Other players involved in the Cape Town hub set up in July are Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa (Biovac), the South African Medical Research Council, and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).



UK To Offer COVID Vaccine To Healthy 16 And 17-Year-Olds

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 11, 2020 A laboratory technician supervises capped vials during filling and packaging tests for the large-scale production and supply of the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP


The UK government announced Wednesday it will offer coronavirus vaccinations to all 16 and 17-year-olds, but not to younger healthy teenagers as in many other Western countries. 

The move follows updated guidance from British health regulators that the country’s vaccine drive should be extended to those aged 16 and 17 without underlying health issues after a review of the latest data.

However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) made no change to its current advice to the government that only 12 to 15-year-olds deemed vulnerable should be jabbed.

This contrasts with the United States, which announced in May that younger teens would be vaccinated, and the European Union’s medicines regulator which has approved two shots for all over-12s.

Britain’s health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed he had accepted the UK experts’ latest recommendations and asked the state-run National Health Service (NHS) “to prepare to vaccinate those eligible as soon as possible”.

“JCVI will continue to review data and provide updates on at risk groups aged 12-15 and whether any additional groups will be added,” he said in a statement.

The older teenagers eligible will receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved for use in Britain for people aged 12 and over.

Regulators have not yet decided when they should get their second doses, with a further recommendation likely in the coming weeks.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said at a televised briefing to announce the change that he wanted the NHS to begin jabbing 16 and 17-year-olds “as fast as practically possible”.

“It has been preparing for multiple permutations and options for very many weeks now, and I would expect this programme will start in a very short number of weeks,” he added.

Health experts welcomed the move, with Russell Viner, professor of Child and Adolescent Health at University College London, calling it a “sensible step”.

“There are important social and educational benefits for protecting young people and reducing transmission in the upper years of secondary school,” he said.

Britain’s fast-paced vaccination programme has seen nearly 89 percent of adults given at least one dose, while close to two-thirds are now fully jabbed.

Since easing all virus curbs in England on July 19, the number of new daily cases has declined, prompting hopes the vaccines are succeeding in defeating the pandemic in Britain.


G7 To Provide 1 Billion COVID-19 Vaccine Doses ‘To World’ By 2023

In this file photo, Pfizer vaccines are seen kept on the table at the Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center in Miami, Florida on April 15, 2021. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP



G7 leaders will agree to expand global Covid vaccine manufacturing to provide at least one billion doses to the world through sharing and financing schemes, Britain said Thursday.

The UK, which is hosting the big powers’ gathering in southwest England, added it would donate at least 100 million surplus doses within the next year, including five million beginning in the coming weeks.

The commitment follows growing calls for richer countries to step up their efforts to share Covid-19 shots with less developed nations, with charities warning the current situation is leading to “vaccine apartheid”.

Britain, which has orders for more than 400 million doses, has faced criticism for failing to begin making donations to poorer countries.

But on the eve of welcoming world leaders from the group of seven wealthy nations to their first summit in almost two years, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that would soon change.

“As a result of the success of the UK’s vaccine programme we are now in a position to share some of our surplus doses with those who need them,” he said.

“In doing so we will take a massive step towards beating this pandemic for good.

“At the G7 Summit I hope my fellow leaders will make similar pledges so that, together, we can vaccinate the world by the end of next year and build back better from coronavirus.”

A Downing Street statement said: “At the Summit world leaders are expected to announce they will provide at least one billion coronavirus vaccine doses to the world through dose sharing and financing and set out a plan to expand vaccine manufacturing in order to achieve that goal.”

The UK will donate five million doses by the end of September, beginning in the coming weeks, primarily for use in the world’s poorest countries, according to Johnson’s office.

Britain has also committed to donating a further 95 million within the next year, including 25 million more by the end of 2021, it added.

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson receives a dose of a AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine, administered by nurse and Clinical Pod Lead, Lily Harrington, at the vaccination centre in St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 19, 2021. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson receives a dose of a AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine, administered by nurse and Clinical Pod Lead, Lily Harrington, at the vaccination centre in St Thomas’ Hospital in London on March 19, 2021. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP


Around 80 percent of the jabs will go to the Covax scheme, which aims to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines around the world, with the remainder shared bilaterally.

The United States said Thursday it would donate 500 million jabs to 92 poor and lower-middle-income nations.

Meanwhile, EU members have agreed to donate at least 100 million doses by the end of 2021 — with France and Germany each committing to providing 30 million.


Harris Vaccinated On Camera, Urges Public To Trust Process

Registered nurse Patricia Cummings administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on December 29, 2020 at the United Medical Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP)


US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received her COVID vaccine live on television Tuesday and urged public trust in the process, while her choice of hospital highlighted the plight of the hard-hit African-American community.

A mask-wearing Harris received the first of her two shots at United Medical Center, located in an area of Washington, DC with a large African-American population.

African-American communities nationwide have seen disproportionately high levels of death and illness related to the Covid-19 pandemic, while polls have also indicated they are among the most reluctant to get vaccinated.

“So I want to remind people that right in your community is where you can take the vaccine, where you will receive the vaccine by folks you may know,” she said after receiving the vaccine manufactured by US firm Moderna.

“So I want to remind people that they have trusted sources of help and that’s where they will be able to go to get the vaccine.”

Harris will become the first Black and Indian-American vice president when she takes office on January 20, as well as the first woman in the role.

Her husband Doug Emhoff was also to be vaccinated.

A string of public officials have been vaccinated before cameras as part of efforts to overcome public skepticism and convince those in doubt that the immunizations are vital to returning to a semblance of normality in the months ahead.

President-elect Joe Biden was vaccinated live on television on December 21.

Outgoing President Donald Trump, who was hospitalized with the virus in October, has not committed to being vaccinated.

Trump has repeatedly downplayed the dangerousness of the virus and urged business and school reopenings despite its surge nationwide.

The United States has registered some 19.3 million cases and more than 335,000 deaths related to the virus, both the world’s highest, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Spain To Keep Record Of People Who Refuse COVID-19 Vaccine

PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE THE STORY: Nurse Eunice Lee prepares to give an injection of the COVID-19 vaccine to a health care worker at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, California on December 16, 2020. (Photo by Brian van der Brug / POOL / AFP)


Spain will set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated against the new coronavirus and share it with other European Union member states, although it will not be made public, Health Minister Salvador Illa said Monday.

During an interview with La Sexta television, Illa reiterated that vaccination against the virus — which as in most EU nations began in Spain over the weekend — would not be mandatory.

“What will be done is a registry, which will be shared with our European partners… of those people who have been offered it and have simply rejected it,” he said.

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“It is not a document which will be made public and it will be done with the utmost respect for data protection,” he added, noting that employers or members of the general public would not have access to it.

The proportion of Spaniards unwilling to take a Covid-19 vaccine has plunged to 28 percent in December from 47 percent last month, according to a poll published last month.

The survey by the state-funded CIS research institute found 40.5 percent of respondents are willing to have the jab while 16.2 percent would do so if it is shown to be “reliable”.

Spain has been one of Europe’s worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with the virus death toll passing the 50,000 mark on Monday, according to the health ministry.

Nearly 1.9 million people have been infected.

The government expects to have between 15 million and 20 million people out of its population of 47 million vaccinated against the virus by June.

“The way to defeat the virus is to vaccinate all of us or the more the better,” Illa said.


US To Distribute 6.4 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses In First Tranche

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached, with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached, with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP



The United States plans to distribute 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the first week after it is cleared for emergency use, which is likely next month, officials said Tuesday.

A committee of the Food and Drug Administration meets on December 10 to decide whether to green light the medicine, with the US confronted by soaring numbers of deaths and new cases.

Latest figures on Tuesday showed that the country had recorded a total of 259,600 Covid deaths and 12.5 million cases — with over 2,000 deaths and 167,000 new cases in just the last 24 hours.

General Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for the government’s Operation Warp Speed, told reporters some 40 million doses of vaccine would be available by the end of December.

That figure includes another vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institutes for Health, which announced some preliminary efficacy results last week and is also close to applying for emergency approval.

The Pfizer vaccine has ultra-cold long-term storage requirements of -70 degrees Celsius, and the company has developed special containers with dry ice to keep it cool for up to 15 days.

Perna said that 64 jurisdictions across the US — including the 50 states, territories like the capital Washington and Puerto Rico and Indian reservations — received their allocation numbers on Friday.

The amount they receive will be proportionate to their population size.

The federal government will issue recommendations for who should be prioritized — likely the elderly, high-risk, and frontline workers — but local authorities will make the final decision for themselves.

Vaccinations will begin in retirement homes within 48 hours of the emergency approval, health secretary Alex Azar said. The government has partnered with CVS Health for the retirement home program.