Covid vaccines: Moderna patent application raises fears for Africa vaccine hub

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Moderna has applied for a patent for its vaccine in Africa. Photo: iStock
Moderna has applied for a patent for its vaccine in Africa. Photo: iStock


Moderna has applied for patents in South Africa for its Covid-19 vaccine, prompting fears the company could eventually seek to prevent a new African vaccine manufacturing hub from making its own version of the mRNA shot.

Spokesperson Colleen Hussey confirmed that Moderna had filed for the patents “related to both the Covid-19 vaccine and Moderna’s platform technology” in South Africa and elsewhere, after a group of 60 African charities raised concerns about them. But Hussey said the move would not block vaccine distribution in Africa.

She reiterated Moderna’s pledge in October 2020 that it would not enforce its Covid-19-related patents during the coronavirus pandemic.

But South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics, which used the publicly available sequence of Moderna’s vaccine to make its own version, said it had received no communication from the company about the patent filings.

READ: CoronaVac vaccine could be next to be approved for use in South Africa

It plans to start making and distributing its vaccine across Africa in November this year. Responding to a query if the company would enforce patents in Africa at the end of the pandemic, CEO Stéphane Bancel told Reuters: “We have not decided yet for low- and middle-income countries.”

The charities fear it will enforce them when Covid-19 is declared endemic, Tian Johnson, founder of the African Alliance, said in a statement.

Johnson added that this: 

Would effectively derail all work the World Health Organisation (WHO) and African scientists have put into building vaccine manufacturing capacity on the continent.

The Africa vaccine hub has the WHO backing, as part of a pilot project to give poor and middle-income countries the know-how to make Covid-19 vaccines.

“Moderna is committed to equitable access to vaccines and can confirm that its intellectual property will not create a barrier to Covid vaccine distribution in AMC-92 countries by Afrigen Biologics either now or in the future,” Hussey said.

But Afrigen CEO Petro Terblanche told Reuters in a text message:

We have had no communication from Moderna ... We would truly value their collaboration. “There are patents filed in South Africa and other low and middle income countries by Moderna that, unless those are revoked, or voluntary licenses are awarded or Moderna will waive it, it will impact on our freedom to operate.

On Wednesday, BioNTech’s co-founder and top executive, said the vaccine maker had no plans to enforce its intellectual property rights should groups in Africa seek to make unauthorised versions of its shot.

For much of the pandemic, wealthy countries in the West monopolised most of the global supplies of vaccines, leaving Africa massively under-vaccinated, with just one in ten Africans immunised.

Poor domestic manufacturing capacity forces the continent to import 99% of its vaccine needs. – Reuters


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