Vaccine manufacturing hub will enhance SA’s local manufacturing capabilities

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande says the establishment of Africa’s first messenger RNA (mRNA) technology transfer hub for COVID-19 vaccines will ensure that South Africa’s local manufacturing capabilities of vaccines will be enhanced.

“This means that South Africa will move beyond just fill/finishing of vaccines, into the manufacturing of the active component or drug substance of vaccine. South Africa’s local manufacturing will be ready to move into commercial scale manufacturing of the drug substance, with relevant equipment, facility preparation, staff training, and doing validation runs,” Nzimande said.

He made the remarks during a media briefing on Wednesday, where he was giving an update on ongoing work within the science and innovation sector, as coordinated through the Department of Science and Innovation.

Nzimande reiterated his gratitude to the announcement by World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, that South Africa will become the first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub.

WHO is seeking to expand the capacity of low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to produce COVID-19 vaccines and scale up manufacturing to increase global access to the critical tools to bring the pandemic under control.

During his visit to South Africa last month, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France will support South Africa and Africa with regards to the local manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, through the establishment of the mRNA Technology Transfer Hub.

Network for Genomic Surveillance

In response to the increasing spread of COVID-19 around the world, the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) has been monitoring and sequencing confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.

The COVID-19 genome surveillance work is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation and is based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It is an entity known as KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform (KRISP).

Nzimande said on 25 June 2021, NGS-SA confirmed from the latest representative community sampling up to 17 June 2021 that the Delta variant increased significantly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and is now the most common variant detected in the province.

“These Delta genomes were sampled from multiple locations across six districts of KwaZulu-Natal, Harry Gwala (n=16), Zululand (n=15), iLembe (n=14), eThekwini (n=12), King Cetshwayo (n=1) and Ugu (n=1).

“This demonstrates a striking increase across the province and suggests that the Delta variant is rapidly displacing the Beta variant (501Y.V2/B.1.351), that had been dominant since the onset of the second wave,” Nzimande warned.

The first detection of the Delta variant in South Africa was from a sample collected on 24 April 2021, and had, as per reporting at the time, been detected in Gauteng, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

Although initial sequences were from cases with recent travel history, there is now clear evidence of community transmission of the Delta variant in South Africa.

“In Gauteng, the Delta variant was detected in 1/129 (1%) of samples in April and 13/184 (7%) in May 2021. The data for sequences up to 21 June 2021 indicated that almost 75% of the cases in Gauteng were exposed to the Delta variant, with an increase of the Delta variant in the Western Cape and with signs of dominance starting to show in Limpopo and starting to replace the dominance of the Beta variant in all the provinces,” the Minister said.

He acknowledged (KRISP), the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), and the University of Cape Town (UCT) who sequenced the recently confirmed cases of the Delta variant in South Africa.

He also expressed his gratitude to the NGS-SA - a consortium of scientists funded by the Department of Science and Innovation and the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

The Minister further reiterated his call for the observance of all the health and safety protocols. –

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