It could take up to 3 years for SA to produce Covid-19 vaccines from scratch

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published May 20, 2021

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It could take up to three years for South Africa to fully manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine from scratch according to experts, however, the country does have the capacity to “fill and finish” vaccines.

Director of health innovation at the Department of Science and Technology, Glaudina Loots said while the country did have some capabilities and the experts to produce vaccines, a lot of work and time would be required for full-scale manufacturing.

Loots was speaking during a South African Health Technologies Advocacy Coalition (SAHTAC) webinar on Thursday.

“We have to be realistic in order to bring full vaccine manufacturing capabilities to any company.

“It is not something you can do in a year or two.

“Actually, you will need to invest at least in a period of seven years of intense building of the necessary facilities,” she said.

Before the onset of the pandemic, Loots said they were identifying the value chain for vaccine manufacturing in the country and have now diverted their efforts to Covid-19.

“The main problem when you start looking at full-scale manufacturing, is that while Biovac has the ability to do some of the fill and finishing, it still means that you are dependent on importing the drug substance or the active pharmaceutical ingredient that is needed for the vaccine.”

Active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) are the substances in a vaccine that make it work.

They are the ingredients that make up the finished pharmaceutical product.

APIs are produced using specialised biotechnology under strict safety standards and laboratory controls.

Cape Town based bio-pharmaceutical company, Biovac, has the capability to carry out what is called “fill and finish” which is the process of filling vials with vaccines and finishing with the packaging for distribution.

Chief executive at the Biovac Institute, Dr Morena Makhoana, said: “Can South Africa develop and manufacture a vaccine?

“Absolutely. I think all we need to do is make sure that we understand the other parts of the value chain.”

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