World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a media conference at an EU Africa summit in Brussels, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. European Union leaders on Thursday lauded the bloc's vaccine cooperation with Africa in the fight against the coronavirus, but there was no sign they would move toward a temporary lifting of intellectual property rights protection for COVID-19 shots. (Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP)

WHO works to spread COVID vaccine technology to more nations

WHO works to spread COVID vaccine technology to more nations

WHO works to spread COVID vaccine technology to more nations

GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization is creating a global training center to help poorer countries make vaccines, antibodies and cancer treatments using the messenger RNA technology that has successfully been used to make COVID-19 vaccines.

At a press briefing in Geneva on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the new hub will be in South Korea and will share mRNA technology being developed by WHO and partners in South Africa, where scientists are working to recreate the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna Inc. That effort is taking place without Moderna’s help.

“Vaccines have helped to change the course of the COVID-19 pandemic but this scientific triumph has been undermined by vast inequities in access to these life-saving tools,” Tedros said.

It’s the first time that WHO has supported such unorthodox efforts to reverse-engineer a commercially-sold vaccine, making an end run around the pharmaceutical industry, which has largely prioritized supplying rich countries over poor in both sales and manufacturing.

Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, makers of the two authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, have declined to share their vaccine recipe or technological know-how with WHO and its partners.

WHO said the shared technology would hopefully result not only in coronavirus vaccines, but would also be useful in making antibodies, insulin and treatments for diseases including malaria and cancer.

WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan estimated that the attempt to recreate Moderna’s vaccine would probably not yield any usable shots until late next year or even 2024, but said that timeline could be shortened considerably if the manufacturer agreed to help.

The global disparity in access to COVID-19 vaccines is enormous. Africa currently produces just 1% of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines and only about 11% of its population is immunized.