Government, producers and labour welcome WTO vaccine landmark decision.
By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
The South African government, local vaccine manufacturers and organised labour have welcomed the agreement secured at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last week to support the production of Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries.
The agreement allows governments to authorise local manufacturers to produce vaccines or their ingredients, substances or elements and utilise processes which are covered by patents, without the permission of the patent holders during the pandemic.
South Africa and India first proposed the measures to the WTO, with the support of other developing countries during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We welcome the agreement as a solid and helpful basis to strengthen our joint efforts to develop a strong African vaccine manufacturing capacity. To scale up the production on the continent, further partnerships will be needed, including access to know-how and technologies.
"The unanimous support for the waiver agreement by all WTO countries should lay the basis for such partnerships and give countries greater flexibilities,” said Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel.
Patel and Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza noted that the agreement was a step forward in government’s efforts to stimulate African industrialisation and it has the potential to unlock production beyond fill and finish.
"The waiver is one element of a wider set of actions to build both innovation and production capability in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent. South Africa has four vaccine initiatives under way. Our focus now is to ensure we address demand by persuading global procurers for vaccines to source from African producers.
"This waiver and the other commitments secured at the WTO is also about pandemic preparedness, to enable developing countries to have the legal tools in place to address variants to COVID-19 in future and indeed, to prepare for future pandemics, "Didiza said.
Didiza said the agreement was a step forward for African producers.
Organised labour and business representatives at Nedlac met virtually with government during the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference and pledged their full support to the efforts by South Africa to secure an agreement.
Local vaccine manufacturers Biovac, Afrigen and Aspen PharmaCare welcomed the terms and Trade, Industry and Competition supported the approach to reach agreement at the WTO. SA’s largest trade union federation, COSATU today also welcomed the agreement.
"We would like to congratulate the South African government and all related stakeholders in reaching finality and agreement on this important topic.
"This will be an enabler to all institutions involved in COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacture in developing countries to focus on the task at hand unhindered,” Morena Makhoana, CEO of South African vaccine producer, Biovac said.
Professor Petro Terblanche MD of Afrigen, SA company which has designed and developed the first South African mRNA vaccine currently being tested,said: “The WTO has reached a significant milestone by waiving intellectual property rights applicable in the manufacturing of vaccines. South Africa’s leading role in this breakthrough agreement is applauded. This will unlock manufacturing capacity on the continent.”
Dr Stavros Nicolaou, Group Senior Executive for Strategic Trade at Africa’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer Aspen Pharmacare, said: "We note the landmark agreement aimed at supporting the local production of COVID-19 vaccines and in particular as it relates to the African continent. This is a positive step for the diversification of global pharmaceutical supply chains and for manufacturing on the African continent.
"It achieves a balance between providing access to COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries within a framework that still rewards much needed innovation by the original patent holders. That this has come through agreement between multilateral parties augurs well for partnership in the pharmaceutical value chain."
He said Aspen looks forward to continuing to work with its existing and future R&D multinational partners and global institutions to improve access to COVID-19 vaccines within the agreements reached on intellectual property rights with the various multinational partners.
COSATU and labour more broadly in South Africa welcomed the agreement that has emerged at the WTO.
"The discussions on the TRIPS agreement were tough but we are happy that what emerged is a basis to go forward with local production, " the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) said.
Meanwhile the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), reports 291 new COVID-19 cases that have been identified in South Africa, which brings the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 3,986,892. This increase represents a 4.1% positivity rate.
Today, the NDoH reports 16 deaths and of these 3 deaths occurred in the past 24 to 48 hours. The cumulative COVID-19 deaths are 101,620 to date. 25,604,409 tests have been conducted in both public and private sectors.