South Africa is working on its own mRNA vaccine for low-income countries

South Africa is working on its own mRNA vaccine for low-income countries

They are busy building in an industrial area in a Cape Town suburb. Biotech company Afrigen is expanding. Young scientist showing new spaces where this should be done: making the first mRNA vaccine against corona on African soil.

It’s part of a new project, supported by the World Health Organization among others, to make low-income countries less dependent on the West in the future when it comes to getting coronavirus vaccines.

Vaccination programs in middle- and low-income countries have had a slow start in the coronavirus pandemic, in part due to many wealthy nations. hoarding gold. On the African continent, on average, only 7.5 percent of people are fully vaccinated. For comparison: in the European Union, this percentage is 68 percent.

And while some countries have supplies at the moment, many donations are still needed in the end.


To date, the laboratories of this company have worked mainly on vitamins and hemp oil. “This is a big new challenge,” says director and professor Pietro Terblanche. She says they will try to make a vaccine similar to Moderna’s.

She chose her words carefully. They can’t make a copy of Moderna, because they don’t have the exact formula. For a long time, there was pressure on pharmaceuticals to share so that vaccine production could be expanded and accessible to the whole world. The United States and South Africa, among other countries, have been arguing for some time over the temporary revocation of patents, but they have found a closed door.

However, they are confident that they will find out. “Some of the information is public,” Terblanche said. “We have the genetic code, but we also have to experiment.” They are not only doing this but also with the help of South African Universities. Biggest Challenge: “lipid nanoparticles,” the lipid vesicle, where messenger RNA is packaged to protect in the body.

Ideally, they would also like to adapt the vaccine: it should get cheaper and, hopefully, not be stored at low temperatures, something that causes logistical problems in many low-income countries.

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