PAHO/WHO calls for expression of interest to contribute to the establishment of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub

16 Jun 2021
mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub

Washington DC, 16 June 2021 (PAHO)- The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) organized a virtual meeting to disseminate WHO’s call for expression of interest to contribute to the establishment of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub. The meeting took place virtually on 9 June 2021. 

Given the urgent need for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to be able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO is seeking to expand the capacity of LMICs to produce COVID-19 vaccines and contribute to the success of the global vaccination campaign nationally, regionally and globally.

The objective of the meeting was to provide information on the timeline and participation requirements, as well as the considerations that will be taken into account for the selection of candidates.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the extremely high dependence on the importation of medicines and other essential technologies to meet the needs of health systems during a public health emergency," said Jarbas Barbosa, Assistant Director, PAHO/WHO.

“The mRNA technology has revolutionized the development and provision of vaccines against COVID-19 and has demonstrated extremely high effectiveness with low risk. Even more, the technology allows us to think about its broader application for the development of new vaccines for common use,” said Jarbas Barbosa.

PAHO, together with other organizations and partners, is working to strengthen the productive capacity of essential technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure timely availability and economic and social development in the countries.

“Through this new initiative, WHO will facilitate the establishment of one or more, as appropriate, technology transfer hub(s) which will be able, using a hub and spoke model, to transfer a comprehensive technology transfer package and provide appropriate training to interested manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries”, said James Fitzgerald, Director, Department of Health Systems and Services, PAHO/WHO. 

This initiative will initially prioritize the mRNA-vaccine technology but will expand this call to other technologies in the future, as appropriate. WHO will work with funders and donors to mobilize financial support to establish the hub(s) and, as it(they) is(are) being established, to support the transfer of technology to selected manufacturers in LMICs, taking into consideration the need to establish permanent vaccine production capacity in regions where this is currently essentially absent. This broader objective will ensure that all WHO regions will be able to produce vaccines as essential preparedness measures against future infectious threats.

"The ambition is to improve long-term LMIC health security via two key objectives: to expand capabilities of existing manufactures in LMIC and to establish sustainable capacity in regions with no significant capacity," said Martin Friede, Coordinator, Initiative for Vaccine Research, WHO.

As of 07 June 2021, more than 20 responses were received from potential tech donors and/or sites for hubs; and more than 30 responses from countries/manufacturers more likely to be possible recipients. 

Analía Porrás, Chief of the Medicines and Health Technologies Unit at PAHO, presented the considerations that will be taken into account to prioritize the enormous number of requests received and to guarantee equitable access to vaccines and other health technologies.

"We will consider that the proposals have a comprehensive assurance of quality, safety and efficacy, conditions of affordability, geographic scope, and sustainability," said Analía Porrás. 

On the one hand, priority will be given to ensuring that local regulatory authorities have the necessary capacities, or that there is a delineated and certain commitment to increase their capacities, to be able to monitor the quality of the product at the local level; or that they work with other authorities to be able to do it together.

On the other hand, "it will be considered that the products are submitted for the consideration of the WHO Qualification Program for their emergency use or their prequalification process," Porrás explained. “This is an important condition to guarantee that the products have the confidence of the general population.

John Fitzsimmons, Chief of the PAHO’s Revolving Fund Special Program for Access to Vaccines, presented the role of the Revolving Fund in improving national immunization programs’ capacity for demand planning and forecasting, strengthening supply chain management, and ensuring their financing and sustainability.

“Globally, the Americas has been the leading region in uptake and delivery of influenza vaccines. And this was an important component in the preparedness both for the prior pandemic and the current pandemic, focusing on high-risk populations, the seasonality involved and uptake in countries,” Fitzsimmons said.

In addition, he mentioned the opportunities for countries to get involved in the COVAX mechanism through the PAHO Revolving Fund. “Current unknowns and future dynamics will require interactive demand planning and a supply matching approach for 2022 and beyond. PAHO Revolving Fund role will be critical to ensure demand and supply match,” said Fitzsimmons. 

More than 390 people participated in the meeting, including representatives of ministries of health and regulatory authorities from the following countries: Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.