TUT webinar probes Africa’s capability to develop vaccines 

25 March 2021

“African health practitioners have always been at the forefront of some of the world’s biggest health breakthroughs, not just on the continent but abroad as well, but why is the continent unable to produce its own vaccines?” This question was probed during a Tshwane University of Technology webinar that debated historical challenges and opportunities with vaccine development on Tuesday, 23 March.

Pharmaceutical practitioners, health practitioners, scientists, researchers and students from TUT and other universities attended the robust, knowledge packed dialogue, which addressed in-depth historic encounters and prospects of the development of vaccines in South Africa and on the African continent.

Renowned philosopher and speaker, Joshua Maphonga, shared interesting views on the anti-vaccine propaganda, myths surrounding vaccines and Africa’s capability to develop vaccines. “Africa represents 14% of the world's population but has less than 0.1% of the world's vaccine production. That should indicate that something is not right and we wonder why people develop anti-propaganda theories. Propaganda emerges because of inconsistencies that have been witnessed all over the world. The attempts to hide the truth about the dangers of vaccines make people search for their own truth and believe it as is. We can’t ignore the fact that vaccines have killed people in many parts of the world. Indigenous knowledge should be given space in search for sustainable solutions to Covid-19 and other diseases/viruses,” he explained.

“Most African countries are supplied with vaccines, with fewer than 10 countries being self-sufficient in terms of vaccine procurement. This has led to a very specific shaping of vaccine markets in Africa. Consequently, this presents enormous challenges when trying to establish sustainable vaccine industries in Africa that would ideally require advance-purchasing support from African governments. In the current dispensation, this is simply not possible when most countries do not buy their own vaccines and therefore cannot commit to buying locally manufactured vaccines”, he continued.

Maphonga added that the biggest impediment is the way vaccine markets are structured in Africa. ”Without the commitment and support to buy vaccines manufactured in Africa, it will forever remain a difficult challenge to build a sustainable industry capable of producing vaccine doses at scale. This is where African governments, continental bodies such as the African Union and other stakeholders can make a difference. The current system design requires a shift and complete review to enable this desperately needed capacity to be established as shown by COVID-19 and the delays,” he said.

Prof Katerere, from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, provided insights on the history of vaccines and how they have evolved over the years. “It is no secret that vaccinations have revolutionised global health. Arguably, the single most life-saving innovation in the history of medicine, vaccines have eradicated smallpox, slashed child mortality rates, and prevented lifelong disabilities. Possibly lesser known, are the historic events and pioneers we can today thank for not only saving millions of lives each year, but for laying the foundations of future vaccine development - something that is front-of-mind as the world rushes to make a viable coronavirus vaccine,” he explained.

Dr Eugenia Barros, Director at Eugenia Barros Biosciences and Consulting, touched on powerful technologies that are speeding up the development of vaccines. She mentioned that vaccine development has traditionally been a process measured in years and even decades by scientists. However, in 2020, powerful new vaccine technologies became available to augment traditional vaccine development and are responsible for the rapid delivery of a vaccine candidate for the start of clinical trials. Furthermore, she indicated that vaccine technologies offer a bright ray of hope in the bleak shadow of rapid pandemics. “If successful, these new methods will change the way the world approaches future pandemic threats with more rapid deployment of platform-based vaccines,” she said.

Prof Bruce Mellado, full Professor at the School of Physics, Wits University and Director of the Institute for Collider Particle Physics, took the audience through modelling on the roll out of vaccines in South Africa. “Vaccination in our country is in process. The model we have created will help government strike a balance between the cost of building extra capacity towards achieve population vaccination in a given time scale or accepting a less costly approach that takes more time,” he concluded. 

Please click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMmSvOIO-tc to access the recorded webinar 

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Willa de Ruyter, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
Tel: +27 12 382 5352   Email: deruyterw@tut.ac.za