Young scientists in some Cape Town warehouses are gathering and calibrating the equipment required to reverse engineer a COVID-19 vaccine that has yet to reach South Africa and other underprivileged economies.
These facilities buzzing with activity reflect the urgency of the country’s efforts to reduce vaccine inequalities. In particular, replication of COVID-19 shots shows that the scientists are effectively circumventing an industry that has disproportionately favored wealthy countries in vaccine manufacturing and sales.
South Africa has also received support from the World Health Organization, which is cooperating with vaccine research, training, and production center in the country and established a vital raw materials supply chain. Overall, this is an effort to create doses for those facing inequity.
Some scientists believe reverse engineering, the process of producing vaccinations from publicly available data, is one of the last remaining options for redressing the pandemic's power inequities. According to the People Vaccine Alliance, only 0.7% of vaccines have been supplied to low-income nations so far, while over half have gone to wealthier countries.
The Cape Town center aims to increase access to the revolutionary messenger RNA technology utilized in Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech vaccines, sources cited.
The fact that the WHO is leading the charge to replicate a patented vaccine underlines the magnitude of the supply gap. COVAX, a United Nations-backed project to equal global vaccine distribution, has notably failed to ease severe shortages in developing nations, with the donated doses accounting for only a fraction of what is required to close the gap.
Meanwhile, pressure on pharma companies to provide information, including demands from the Biden administration on Moderna, has yielded no results.
Interestingly, the WHO has never directly participated in the replication of a novel vaccination for worldwide usage over the original researchers' concerns until recently.