mRNA Vaccines—A Global Public Good

Online discussion in Corporation with the International Zero Covid
Alliance, 17th June, 2021, 7pm CEST
Facebook Event: Link

English language livestream: Facebook

Original language livestream with German and English contributions: Facebook event, YouTube stream, Instagram live

Choice of all languages: Zoom

German live translation: YouTube

A recent analysis estimates the cost of producing an additional 8 billion BioNTech vaccine doses within one year at below $10 billion. This would not only save uncountable lives and make it easier to end the pandemic, but also avert trillions of dollars in economic damage.

Amid decreasing infection rates and steadily increasing vaccination rates, talk about an end of the pandemic abounds. However, what is already illusive in Germany, is just cynical when taking into account the global scale: In the Global South—for example in Latin America—Covid-19 keeps causing havoc. This is happening not least due to the extremely unequal distribution of vaccines and technology as well as due to the absurd reluctance to expand production capacity and technology transfer. Faced with this tragedy, we have invited a selected group of high level speakers to discuss ways out of this situation.

  • Dr. Martin Friede (Lead Vaccine Researcher at WHO, Coordinator of the WHO’s
    MRNA tech transfer hub initiative)
  • Zain Rizvi, J.D. (Public Citizen) und Dr. Zoltán Kis (Imperial
    College), authors of a technical report on upscaling mRNA vaccine
    production capacity on a global scale
  • Elisabeth Massute (Doctors without Borders, Meditation campaign)
  • Dr. Jeremy Rossman (Zero Covid Alliance, Virologist at University of
  • Ottmar von Holtz (Green Party, Member of Parliament, Committee on
    Development, Sub-Committee on Global Health)
  • Eva-Maria Schreiber (Left Party, Member of Parliament, Committee on

The focus of discussion will be on the specific potential of the innovative mRNA Vaccine technology in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic: mRNA vaccines are highly effective, have few side effects and can be quickly adapted to virus mutations. Furthermore, the simple production process that doesn’t require cell cultures, allows for using facilities that cannot be used for other types of vaccine.

For these reasons international organizations like the WHO, the IMF and—as of their recent resolution—the European Parlament consider the expansion of mRNA production capacity to be a crucial global mission. However, it is exactly the mRNA vaccines for which very few licenses have been granted to producers in emerging countries. mRNA producers so far.

3 to 4 Billion doses of mRNA vaccines will have been produced by the end of this year and the majority of the is already reserved for the Global North. The COVAX program, which is meant to secure an equitable access to vaccines even in lower-income countries, has so far received less than 2 million doses of the BioNTech vaccine. COVAX is therefore dependend on the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which is only suggested for people oder than 60 in Germany. Numerous countries in the Global South have to rely upon the inactivated whole virus vaccines from India and China, which have only a limited effect for containing the pandemic as experience from Chile and the Seychelles show us.

Representatives of the pharmaceutical industry project that production capacity suitable for meeting the global demand for Covid-19 vaccines will not be available before the end of 2022. Additional facilities for producing mRNA vaccines—which require 4 to 9 months to be built—could therefore still make a huge difference.

The think tank Public Citizen has presented a plan for costs and requirements of expanding production capacity. The result: Even taking the scarcity of some base chemicals etc. into account, 8 billion additional BioNTech vaccines could be produced within a year—for less than 10 billion dollars.

This requires a rapid and coordinated effort in technology transfer: 19 producers from Africa, Asia and Latin America have expressed interest in producing mRNA vaccines by volunteering for participation in the mRNA tech transfer hub proposed by the WHO. This hub, which has recently also been endorsed by the European Parliament, would allow for an efficient qualification of all intereted manufacturers.

In addition, according to the WHO the positive effect of expanding production capacity would outlast the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the adaptability of the new production process, new facilities could be repurposed rapidly for new pandemics as well as—in case of further scientific successes in these fields—against other diseases like Malaria, cancer or HIV.

Public Citizen is focussed on the US setting, promoting the Defense Production Act and cooperation between Moderna and NIH as means to promote the global upscaling of production capacity for the Moderna vaccine as well as global technology transfer. Nevertheless, Germany as site of development for the mRNA vaccines from BioNtech and CureVac also has a preeminent responsibility for the global expansion of mRNA production, which is why we start the discussion with representatives from German federal politics.

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