By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
South Africa has technical capabilities to produce vaccines as the country battles with the COVID-19 resurgence.
According to the Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, the threat of future pandemics, has propelled the country's ability to develop and manufacture vaccines locally into the spotlight.
"Why can’t we produce in South Africa because we’ve produced other vaccines, with the scientist capacity that we have and infrastructure," Nzimande asked.
Nzimande told the media on Monday that government, through the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), owns a 47.5% stake in Biovac, a biopharmaceutical company.
"The company has over the years developed the capability to manufacture vaccines," he said.
Last year, the Minister launched an initiative, which sees Biovac manufacturing Hexaxim in partnership with Sanofi.
Hexaxim is the world's first liquid hexavalent vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza type B, and poliomyelitis.
"So, we do have a foundation that we need to build on," he stressed.
It is also the first World Health Organisation Expanded Programme on Immunisation vaccine to be manufactured in South Africa, which he believes is a strong indication of the technical abilities of South African scientists.
Also, two studies are currently being supported in the area of immunisations.
"The first is a study on plant-based manufacturing of antibodies for COVID-19, which aims to facilitate the rapid development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, therapeutic antibodies and diagnostic reagents utilising various expression platforms for advancing the production of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates and reagents," he explained.
Meanwhile, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has entered into an agreement with Kentucky Biological Products (KBP) for the potential manufacturing of the antigen of their vaccine and expressed interest in testing their vaccine in South Africa.
The second is a ChAdOx1-nCOV-19 vaccine trial, in partnership with the department, South African Medical Research Council and the University of the Witwatersrand.
The study is aimed at assessing the safety, immunogenicity and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate (ChAdOx1 SARS-CoV-2) in South African adults living without HIV.
"This is part of an international study aimed at finding a vaccine that will prevent infection by the virus that causes COVID-19, but also assessing whether the vaccines will be effective in local settings."
In addition, the vaccine developed at the Oxford University Jenner Institute, in collaboration with AstraZeneca is currently being trialled in a number of countries, including South Africa.
"Preliminary results indicate that this vaccine could reduce virus transmission based on an observed reduction in asymptomatic infections."
The vaccine is at least 62% effective when given in two full-strength doses, compared to the 94% efficacy achieved by Pfizer and Moderna candidate vaccines, he said.
“Of the few vaccines approved globally, the Oxford vaccine, while not as effective as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been touted as the most suitable for developing countries due to its cost, and because it is comparatively easy to transport, store and distribute.”
The Minister has also rubbished false stories that are spread about vaccines.
"This thing about people questioning vaccines now has a danger of misleading people," he stressed.
"All of us when we are born we’re vaccinated, even children who are born now as we’re speaking they’re being vaccinated against polio and all these other diseases."
He said vaccines are not new and go through vigorous scientist testing.
"This thing that the 5G is bringing COVID-19 is not true and many other stories being told about COVID-19 that are not there."
The department will also convene a panel of scientists to provide a platform to share with society on what science is saying about the role of vaccination in the fight against COVID-19 and bust the myths about vaccination.
He will also be organising an imbizo to analyse and come up with concrete suggestions to government and society as a whole on how to deal with the psychosocial impact of Coronavirus on families, communities and society as a whole.