Developing countries are increasingly turning to local Covid vaccinations as the UN-backed Covax program lags behind.
As Western countries roll out booster injections to their own populations, Covax, which has been set up by United Nations agencies, governments and donors to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for countries to low and middle income, said he would miss his target. distribute 2 billion doses worldwide by the end of this year.
According to the latest supply forecasts, on September 8, the program now plans to deliver 1.4 billion doses of vaccines in 2021, a deficit of nearly a third.
The shortage is largely due to export and manufacturing constraints and growing demand from vaccine producing countries. India – a key producer – delivered just 28 million of the 40 million doses promised in March when infections spiked as the Delta variant spread across the country.
Developing countries have responded by producing new local vaccines. Among them is Egypt, which has launched human trials for its homemade Covi Vax vaccine, after successful laboratory tests.
“The Egyptian Medicines Authority has given its approval to manufacture the first batch of vaccine doses under the name Covi Vax for use in clinical trials,” said Mohamed Ahmed Ali, professor of virology at the National Research Center and head of the research team for the production of the vaccine.
Earlier this year, researchers in Saudi Arabia announced the start of the first human trials of a vaccine developed by researchers at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University.
Cuba is seeking WHO approval for its own vaccines as it seeks to achieve full immunization, including children as young as two, by the end of 2021.
Several Brazilian research institutes are also betting on the development of local vaccines against Covid-19.
The Butantan Institute, a public research center in São Paulo, performs early-stage human trials of ButanVac. The viral vector vaccine, developed by the Icahn School of Medicine in New York and an international consortium, may be fully produced in Brazil in the future.
Cristiano Gonçalves, Head of Innovation at Butantan, said: “The consortium and supporters of ButanVac are concerned about low and middle income countries which are currently underserved. The idea is that ButanVac serves the domestic market and that Butantan reserves part of its production for export.
The Indian government is also planning to launch ZyCoV-D, the world’s first DNA vaccine, which is produced by Zydus Cadila, a private company, in partnership with the Biotechnology Department of the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology. This will allow the existing immunization program to be extended to include young children and adolescents.
In Singapore, three mRNA vaccines developed by the American company Arcturus Therapeutics are the subject of human trials at mid-term to verify their effectiveness.
The production of local vaccines follows a number of agreements in which developing countries have started to take over the manufacture of vaccines developed in Europe, the United States or China.
In Brazil, about two-thirds of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, many of which are the result of technology transfer agreements between Brazilian laboratories and international pharmaceutical companies.
In July 2020, the Butantan Institute supported large-scale human trials of CoronaVac, the vaccine manufactured by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech. In return, Sinovac pledged to transfer the technology to the Brazilian institute.
Butantan imports the raw materials from China and packages the vaccine in Brazil. For the next phase of the technology transfer agreement, a factory is being prepared to start producing doses.
The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a Rio de Janeiro research center linked to the Ministry of Health, began negotiations with AstraZeneca in the first half of last year.
As a result, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s Covishield vaccine has also undergone large-scale human trials in Brazil and is now produced domestically with raw materials imported from abroad. In the future, the vaccine will be produced entirely in Brazil.
Similar deals have helped close the immunization gap in many other low- and middle-income countries, such as Egypt, which has already started local production of Sinovac’s vaccine.
Last month, Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed announced an ambitious plan to produce more than a billion doses per year of the vaccine, which would make it “the largest vaccine producer in Africa and the Middle -Orient, ”she said.
Morocco has also launched a local production project for the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Morocco’s state-owned news agency announced in July that the government plans to produce 5 million doses per month.
Indonesia is also in talks with the World Health Organization as well as six pharmaceutical companies to become a global vaccine manufacturing hub, according to its Minister of Health, Budi Gunadi Sadikin.
However, Amjad al-Khouli, epidemiologist at the WHO regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean, stressed that technology transfer agreements depended on existing capacities and could be overshadowed by intellectual property issues.
“It still requires agreements to transfer vaccine manufacturing technology, solve the problem of intellectual property and a strong drug manufacturing structure, which is not available in most developing countries,” Khouli said.
Yet richer countries are stepping in to help build critical vaccine manufacturing capacities.
Senegal is awaiting its first doses of a locally made Covid vaccine in the first quarter of next year, after President Macky Sall signed an agreement to set up a large-scale vaccine manufacturing plant with the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the United States in July.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal was part of a “much larger Team Europe initiative to support the production of medicines and vaccines across Africa”.
A longer version of this article was posted on SciDev.Net