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NEWS: South Africa chosen to host first WHO Covid mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub

But only a generous transfer of surplus vaccines from the rich North to the poor South can prevent an immediate catastrophe, the WHO says.

With Covid-19 surging in Africa and a large continental shortage of vaccines, South Africa has been chosen to host the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) first Covid-19 messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology transfer hub to scale up production and access to vaccines. 

This will be the first in a series of Covid mRNA vaccine technology transfer hubs that the WHO is launching around the world to boost Covid-19 vaccine supplies. 

It will be established by a South African consortium comprising the companies Biovac and Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines and a network of universities, partnering with the WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). 

The South African consortium was chosen from a list of about 20 companies or consortiums which wanted to receive technologies, while about 20 companies offered their technologies to be manufactured by the hub.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the production of the mRNA vaccine in South Africa would help to overcome the inequality in vaccine distribution in Africa, which was still struggling with severe shortages while developed countries had surpluses. He called for an end to this “vaccine nationalism” and said that Africa had to manufacture its own vaccines as soon as possible as supplies from the North were just not forthcoming. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security,” Ramaphosa said at the virtual launch of the South African technology transfer hub on Monday.

“This landmark initiative is a major advance in the international effort to build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity that will put Africa on a path to self determination. South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort.”

Although the establishment of this vaccine technology transfer hub was a step in the right direction, it did not detract from South Africa’s insistence on a waiver of Trips — the protection of intellectual property rights — for Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing companies to allow developing countries to produce them more cheaply, Ramaphosa said.

“This is great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products.”

He noted that Covid-19 infections and deaths had surged by almost 40% over the past week across Africa, while deaths had tripled or quadrupled in some countries. He attributed this to vaccine inequity, the spread of the new, more dangerous Covid-19 variants and a relaxation of public health measures.

However, the head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, Michael Ryan, stressed that manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines in Africa, while commendable, would not address the immediate crisis, which was to get vaccines into the arms of the most vulnerable people on the continent and around the world as soon as possible.

Ryan said the world had a “short window of opportunity” before the coronavirus evolved a variant that was more transmissible and more lethal. The only way to seize that opportunity was for richer countries to provide their surplus vaccines to poorer countries to enable them to vaccinate this relatively small number of the most vulnerable people.

“It will be a catastrophic moral failure at global level if we do not do that,” Ryan said.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said it would probably take between nine and 12 months to produce a Covid mRNA vaccine at the new South African technology transfer hub.

The timeline would depend on whether the partners chose an already tried and tested vaccine technology or a more experimental one. She said the candidate partners for the hub included some larger, more established vaccine manufacturers as well as some smaller, less established ones.

Getting to the point of manufacture would take longer for the smaller companies as their vaccines would still have to undergo Stage Two and Three clinical trials.

She added that the good news was that South Africa already had considerable experience in conducting clinical trials.

The South African Covid mRNA technology transfer hub is being supported by France as part of its wider effort to boost Africa’s capacity to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. 

On his visit to South Africa in May, French President Emmanuel Macron and the German government announced financial support for South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare company to boost production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

At Monday’s launch of the mRNA technology transfer hub, Macron said he was proud of Biovac and France’s South African partners for having been selected by the WHO to establish the Covid mRNA vaccine hub. The mRNA technology is used by the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines.

“This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait,” Macron said.

The WHO said the hub partners would negotiate the details of the initiative with the South African government and public and private partners inside the country and from around the world.

The WHO added that the technology transfer hub would benefit from the Medicines Patent Pool’s vast experience of intellectual property (IP) management and issuing of IP licences.

It said Biovac was a biopharmaceutical company that resulted from a partnership formed with the South African government in 2003 to establish local vaccine manufacturing capability for the provision of vaccines for national health management and security.

“Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is a biotechnology company focused on product development, bulk adjuvant manufacturing and supply and distribution of key biologicals to address unmet healthcare needs.

“The organisations complement one another, and can each take on different roles within the proposed collaboration: Biovac will act as developer, Afrigen as manufacturer, and a consortium of universities as academic supporters providing mRNA know-how, and Africa CDC for technical and regional support.

“The South African consortium benefits from having existing operating facilities that have spare capacity and because it has experience in technology transfers. It is also a global hub that can start training technology recipients immediately.” DM

Original Content on Daily Maverick: 

NEWS: Ramaphosa Eases Red Tape for Independent Power Providers to Generate Power

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that government would amend schedule two of the Electricity Regulation Act to raise the exemption threshold from 1 megawatt to 100 megawatts.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG – President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced an amendment to the Electricity Regulation Act that will make it easier for independent power providers to generate power and even sell it back into the grid.

Speaking during a live-streamed briefing a little earlier, Ramaphosa announced that government will amend schedule two of the act to raise the exemption threshold from 1 megawatt to 100 megawatts.

That means power producers will be able to produce power without going through a long drawn-out process with the energy regulator.

“Generators will also be allowed to wheel electricity through the grid subject to wheeling charges and connection agreements with Eskom mand relevant municipalities,” Ramaphosa said.

Addressing the media on a day when the nation’s labouring under stage three power cuts, the president acknowledged the role uncertain power supply has played in the nation’s economic state.

“We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis in our country’s recent history.”

The amendment to schedule two will allow independent power producers to generate up to 100MW of electricity without having to obtain a license from the national energy regulator.

They will also then be able to sell excess power back into the national grid but if they wish to do that, they will still need a permit to ensure they comply with grid requirements.

“This will ensure that we’re able to bring online as much new capacity as possible without compromising the integrity and stability of our energy system.”

The president also confirmed municipalities will be empowered to formulate their own power mix and buy power from independent producers in order to keep the lights on.

Ramaphosa has promised the amendment will be published within 60 days.

Under the new amendment, power producers will still have to go through an official process though.

“Generation projects will still need to obtain permits, a grid connection permit, to ensure that they meet all the requirements for grid compliance. This will ensure that we are able to bring online as much new capacity as possible without compromising the integrity and stability of our energy system,” the president said.

Original Content on Eyewitness News: https://ewn.co.za/2021/06/10/watch-live-ramaphosa-announces-details-of-sa-s-economic-recovery-plan

Ramaphosa announces far-reaching actions to boost power generation ‘outside of Eskom’

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday announced far-reaching and practical interventions to address South Africa’s growth- and confidence-sapping electricity crisis, including several steps to “significantly increase generation capacity outside of Eskom”.

He also warned, however, that “debilitating” load-shedding would remain a “possibility for the immediate future”, while State-owned power utility Eskom undertook the “fundamental maintenance necessary to improve the reliability of supply”.

In what was his fourth State of the Nation Address (SoNA), which was delayed for more than an hour-and-a-half as a result of ongoing disruptions by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, Ramaphosa said measures would be taken, over the coming months, to “fundamentally change the trajectory of energy generation in our country”.

To rapidly increase non-Eskom generation capacity he announced the following actions, including:

  • The imminent issuance of a Section 34 Ministerial Determination to give effect to the Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP 2019), enabling the development of additional grid capacity from renewable energy, natural gas, hydro power, battery storage and coal.
  • The initiation of the procurement of emergency power from projects that can deliver electricity into the grid within three to 12 months.
  • The continued registration by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) of small-scale distributed generation for own use of under 1 MW. Such facilities would require no licence.
  • That Nersa would ensure that all applications by commercial and industrial users to produce electricity for own use above 1 MW were processed within the prescribed 120 days, with no limit to installed capacity above 1 MW.
  • The launching of Bid Window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) and the opening of discussions with successful bidders from REIPPPP Bid Window 4 to accelerate the completion of their projects.
  • The negotiation of supplementary power purchase agreements to acquire additional capacity from existing wind and solar plants.
  • And, the development of measures to enable municipalities, in good financial standing, to procure their own power from independent power producers (IPPs).

The initiatives were broadly aligned with the call by Business Unity South Africa that the President use the SoNA to announce the regulations needed to enable “private sector energy generation at scale”.

However, some concern was raised following the speech with the fact that no explicit statement was made on the wheeling of power generated by large plants developed to support mines and factories.

The emergency procurement programme, meanwhile, was already being advanced under the aegis of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), which issued a request for information (RFI) in December for 3 000 MW of emergency electricity solutions that could be “grid connected in the shortest time at the least possible cost”.

It is understood that the DMRE received hundreds of responses to the RFI by the closing date of January 31, but the department indicated last week that it was still evaluating the information and told Engineering News that it would comment only once all inputs had been processed.

For Eskom itself Ramaphosa announced that the process of “divisionalising” the utility’s three operating activities of generation, transmission and distribution would be implemented.

He said this process would be in line with the Eskom Roadmap announced by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan in 2019. However, he adopted the divisionalisation nomenclature favoured by Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, rather than the “unbundling” term used in the Department of Public Enterprises document.

Each division, Ramaphosa said, would have its own board and management structures.

He also praised recent efforts by the social partners represented at the National Economic Development and Labour Council to craft a “social compact on electricity” and address Eskom’s financial crisis in a “financially sustainable manner”.

“Through this compact the social partners seek an efficient, productive and fit-for-purpose Eskom that generates electricity at affordable prices for communities and industries. This requires both a drastic reduction in costs – including a review of irregular contracts – and measures to mobilise resources that will reduce Eskom’s debt and inject fresh capital where needed.”

The social partners, he added, would also seek to mobilise funding to address Eskom’s financial crisis “in a manner that does not put workers’ pensions at risk and that does not compromise the integrity of the financial system”.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions made a proposal earlier this month to reduce Eskom’s debt from R450-billion to R200-billion through a special purpose vehicle involving workers’ pensions.

Initially, business and government welcomed the proposal, but greater circumspection has since emerged, as other unions objected to the proposal and questioned its legality.

Ahead of the SoNA, Public Investment Corporation (PIC) raised its concern about suggestions that the PIC, on behalf of its clients, would provide funding to bail-out Eskom.

The PIC manages in excess of R2-trillion on behalf of clients that include the Government Employees Pension Fund, Unemployment Insurance Fund, Compensation Commissioners’ Fund and several others.

The PIC said it was well aware of the risk that Eskom posed to the South African economy and to the funds invested on behalf of its clients and said it was ready and keen to engage with various stakeholders to find a suitable and sustainable solution for the systemic risk posed by Eskom.

“Such a solution must be in line with prudent management of client assets. The PIC is obligated to always act in the best interests of its clients, whilst giving due regard to the national interest.”

EDITED BY: Creamer Media Reporter
Original article at: http://m.engineeringnews.co.za/article/ramaphosa-announces-far-reaching-actions-to-boost-power-generation-outside-of-eskom-2020-02-13/rep_id:4433