The cost of fighting a virus: Part Three

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…will Africa have capacity to produce own vaccine?

By Dr Michelina Andreucci 

SINCE the outbreak of COVID-19, governments the world over have come together in their attempts to develop a vaccine to fight the contagion.

The vaccines would necessitate custom formulation, special packaging, transportation and storage in every country with infected citizens.

WHO estimated a total cost of US$8 billion to develop a suite of three or more vaccines having different technologies and distribution to prevent COVID-19 infections worldwide.

WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), were developing financial resources and guidelines for a global distribution of three or more safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines, an adequate supply of which is vital to a vaccination programme, but WHO warned of a US$4,5 billion funding gap for lower income countries.

As the rapidly growing pandemic began to spread worldwide early in 2020, national governments immediately responded by dedicating their energies and resources for national or international investments and formed partnerships to make multiple vaccines on shortened timelines.

These included:

λ The Canadian Government, between March and late-April, announced CA$275 million in funding for 96 research vaccine research projects at Canadian companies and universities, with plans to establish a ‘vaccine bank’ of several new vaccines that could be used if another coronavirus outbreak occurs.

λ A further investment of CA$1,1billion was added to support clinical trials in Canada and develop manufacturing and supply chains for vaccines.  In May, the Canadian Government committed CA$850 million to WHO’s live streaming effort to raise US$8 billion for COVID-19 vaccines and preparedness. 

λ Also, in May, China pledged US$2 billion to support the overall efforts by WHO’s programmes against COVID-19. There were nine Chinese COVID-19 vaccines in development, involving 1 000 scientists, Chinese research institutes and military hospitals. The Chinese Government provided low-rate loans to vaccine developers through its central bank and enabled land transfers to build production plants.

λ By May 2020, the EU, in France, announced a US$4,9 million investment in CEPI for a COVID-19 vaccine research consortium involving the Institut Pasteur, Themis Bioscience (Vienna,Austria), and the University of Pittsburgh, bringing CEPI’s total investment in COVID-19 vaccine development to US$480 million. 

λ In March 2020, the European Commission provided a €80 million investment in a German biotechnology company (CureVac) to develop a vaccine. Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands have been major contributors to the CEPI effort for COVID-19 vaccine research in Europe. 

λ The UK Government formed a COVID-19 vaccine taskforce in April 2020 to stimulate British efforts for rapidly developing a vaccine through collaborations of industry, universities and government agencies across the vaccine development pipeline, including for clinical trial placement at UK hospitals, regulations for approval and eventual manufacturing.  In April 2020, £44 million were also allocated to the vaccine development initiatives at the University of Oxford and Imperial College of London. 

Meanwhile, the University of Oxford vaccine development team and the UK Government agreed that UK citizens would not get preferential access to a new COVID-19 vaccine developed by the taxpayer-funded university, but rather consented to having a licensed vaccine distributed multi-nationally in co-operation with WHO.

λ In the US, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a federal agency that funds disease-fighting technology, announced the investment of almost US$1 billion in support of America’s COVID-19 vaccine development, and the preparation for manufacturing the most promising vaccine candidates.  A further US$483 million investment was made by BARDA in the vaccine developer Moderna and its partner, Johnson & Johnson. 

λ BARDA further devoted US$4 billion on vaccine development, with roles in other American investment for development of six to eight vaccine candidates expected to be in clinical studies over 2020-21 by companies such as Sanofi Pasteur and Regeneron. 

Among some of the large pharmaceutical developing/manufacturing companies with experience in producing large scale vaccines are Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Glaxo, Smith & Kline (GSK) that have joined Sanofi in an uncommon partnership of multi-national companies to combine their financial and manufacturing capabilities in support of accelerated vaccine development technology for the current pandemic of COVID-19.

In Africa, there are currently only seven vaccine manufacturing organisations and not all are ready for full production.  A recent study noted that Africa has 375 drug manufacturers to a population of 1,3 billion, whereas China and India, which have roughly the same population each, have around 15 000 and 5 000 drug manufacturers respectively.

Meanwhile, the African Export Import Bank was reported to be ready to raise up to US$5 billion to buy the required vaccines once they are made available, which is welcome news. But as things stand, once vaccines are available, will Africa have them in the quantities required to support immunity?

Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant. She is a published author in her field. 

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