The World Health Organization and its COVAX partners are working with a number of South African groups and universities to establish its first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub.
The move follows the WHO's call for Expression of Interest in April to establish COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hubs to scale up production and access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The South African consortium comprises Biovac, Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a network of universities and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the following weeks, partners will negotiate details with the government of South Africa and public and private sectors inside the country and from around the world.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies.
He warned that the gap could severely undermine global health security.
"This landmark initiative is a major advance in the international effort to build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity that will put Africa on a path to self-determination," Ramaphosa said. "South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort."
Technology transfer hubs are training facilities where manufacturers from low- and lower-middle income countries can receive training in how to produce certain vaccines, and with the relevant licenses to do so, the WHO explained.
The WHO and partners will bring in the production know-how, quality control and necessary licenses to a single entity to facilitate a broad and rapid technology transfer to multiple recipients.
"This is great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products."
French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently visited South Africa, said France was committed to supporting efforts in Africa to scale up local manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical solutions.
"I am proud for Biovac and our South African partners to have been selected by WHO, as France has been supporting them for years," said Macron. "This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait."