Nigerian officials have welcomed the World Health Organization’s announcement that the country would be among the first on the continent to receive technology to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
WHO on Friday said Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia were also chosen as part of a push for Africa to make its own vaccines to fight COVID and other diseases.
Less than 6% of Nigeria’s population, Africa’s largest, are vaccinated against COVID and officials say local production would have a major impact.
The WHO’s announcement in Brussels Friday was the latest effort by the global health body to boost vaccine production in Africa.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanum Ghebreyesus said production of the mRNA vaccines in Africa will address vaccines inequality issues.
“Globally vaccine production is concentrated in a few mostly high-income countries,” Tedros said. “One of the most obvious lessons of the pandemic is therefore the urgent need to increase local production of vaccines especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people but the WHO says more than 80% of the population has yet to receive a single dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Ghebreyesus said the WHO will provide technical trainings and support on vaccines production to the six African countries. As of yet, there are no details on when production might begin.
Officials in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, where just about six percent of the population have been vaccinated, welcomed the WHO vaccine production initiative.
Bashir Ahmad, the president’s new media aide, said in a tweet “the president welcomed the designation of Nigeria as one of the countries in Africa designated as one of the manufacturing bases for the covid-19 vaccine.”
Ahmad said the president also called for more collaborations to address the effects of the pandemic.
Kunle Adebayo, a pharmaceutical research expert at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, said producing the vaccines in Nigeria should lead to higher use and acceptance of COVID-19 shots.
“It will help ensure availability on demand, which will also reduce the waste we have seen in terms of expiry dates and destruction of vaccines because they were sent late to us,” Adebayo said. “The fact that the vaccines will be produced within the continent will definitely increase the confidence of the people in using them and that would address one major plank of vaccine hesitancy.”
But Adebayo said there might be initial challenges.
“The technology that will be applied is still relatively new and it’s work in progress in a sense,” Adebayo said. “There could be challenges implementing and then also the corporation from the various owners of technologies and those with the expertise to assist us. There could also be the normal infrastructural challenges that we face in most of the continent.”
The Global mRNA technology hub was established last year to support vaccine manufacturers in low- and medium-income countries.
The WHO said the hub also has the potential to expand manufacturing capacity for other medicines and diagnostics.