As COVID-19 cases soared in South Africa in June 2020, the country endured a severe lockdown. During this lockdown, 27-year-old Clementine gave birth to a baby boy, Lelo Matthew. With a mask covering her face in the delivery room, Clementine feared contracting COVID-19 while at the hospital. Fortunately, no one in Clementine’s family tested positive. Unfortunately, giving birth during a global pandemic gave Clementine more anxiety than the average new mother. Based on the experience, Clementine named her son for the word hope. It has been a year since Clementine gave birth to her son. South Africa’s vaccination effort coincides with rising COVID-19 infections and an economy threatened by COVID-19.
Before the pandemic began, South Africa faced a recession. The closure of businesses and decreased consumer spending because of COVID-19 damaged the economy even further. In 2021’s first quarter, the unemployment rate in South Africa jumped to 32.6%. Specifically, the industries with the most prevalent job losses included construction, trade, private households, transport, and agriculture. Trade accounts for nearly 20% of employment in South Africa, so the job losses in this industry are especially worrisome. This rising unemployment rate will likely cause more South Africans to fall into poverty as 10.3 million South Africans already live below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.
In June 2021, South Africa remained the most COVID-19-affected country in Africa. As this “third wave” caused devastation, the South African government enforced a minimum lockdown of 14 days starting on June 27, 2021. Measures included school and restaurant closures and prohibited gatherings will occur.
A Promising Future
Although COVID-19 cases continue to flood the country, South Africa’s vaccination effort does not look bleak. A South African consortium is creating the first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in a historic decision. This technology will be possible with support from the World Health Organization (WHO). Through the establishment of this facility, manufacturers from developing countries will master vaccine production techniques. Additionally, the manufacturers will receive licenses to produce vaccines. Consequently, South Africa and other African countries will have greater access to COVID-19 vaccines. This access is a considerable feat, given South Africa’s current vaccination rate rests at less than 1%.
Afrigen Biologics, a biotech company, plays a critical role in the project as it will produce mRNA vaccines and educate Biovac, an additional manufacturer, in vaccine production. Soon, the WHO will be responsible for supervising the quality of COVID-19 vaccine production and implementation.
The True South Africa
While the leaders of this project foresee the vaccine hub taking critical leaps in South Africa’s vaccination effort, the hub also has implications for the future of South African medicine. WHO chief Tedros Adhamon anticipates that the hub will be essential in COVID-19 vaccine production and the production of future vaccines. The hub could create remedies that impoverished individuals struggle to access, an achievement that is especially opportune as the unemployment rate of South Africa and other African countries rises.
South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, sees the hub as having large-scale benefits for Africa’s portrayal. Ramaphosa remarked that the world often stigmatizes Africa as the center of disease and poor development. The innovations of this hub will provide African countries with the opportunity to correct the globe’s inaccurate perception.
In Ramaphosa’s words, Africa is “on a path to self-determination.” This vaccine technology transfer hub only brings South Africa and other African countries closer to demonstrating that fact to the rest of the world.
– Madeline Murphy