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SA strikes a deal to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines — Here’s what you need to know

20 June 2022 - 08:00
Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel says the World Trade Organization has granted SA a five-year waiver to manufacture its own Covid-19 vaccines. File photo.
Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel says the World Trade Organization has granted SA a five-year waiver to manufacture its own Covid-19 vaccines. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

SA has struck a deal to manufacture its own Covid-19 vaccines, trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said at the 12th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference.

The minister said this means developing countries can produce the vaccines without the permission of patent holders.

Patel said SA, alongside India, tabled a proposal in 2020 to manufacture vaccines.  He said rich countries have blocked these negotiations at every turn to prevent developing countries manufacturing their own vaccines. 

He said the WTO granted SA a five-year waiver to manufacture its own vaccines. This can be extended “if the pandemic circumstances still require it”.

“Irrespective of the developments of the pandemic, we have a minimum period of five years in which we can use this waiver. A number of developed countries would have hoped for this to be for a shorter period. There was a very strong request from many developed countries for a three-year agreement, but we agreed this period would be too short,” said Patel. 

He said there are a few challenges SA anticipates with the five-year waiver.

“The one is what we call supply site problems, or how we produce the vaccines. The second is demand site problems, or how to ensure someone buys the vaccines we produce.

“On the supply side, key issues have been intellectual property and the ingredients that go into the manufacture of the vaccine. The problem is we don’t have the drug substance or raw material on which success of the vaccine development rests,” said Patel. 

Other challenges are financial and not enough know-how around production.

Patel said developing countries were working on building capacity to enable them to manufacture and produce vaccines. 

SA already produces the Johnson&Johnson vaccine and the waiver will allow it to start local  production of the Pfizer vaccine. 

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