By Tom Allard and Kate Lamb
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is in talks with the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as six pharmaceutical companies to become a global vaccine manufacturing hub, its health minister told Reuters .
First detailing the ambitious strategy, Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in an interview that Indonesia will launch the initiative by prioritizing the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines from companies that share technology and set up facilities in Indonesia. .
“We are working with WHO to be one of the world’s centers for mRNA manufacturing,” he said, adding that he had directly lobbied WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during a trip earlier this month to Europe.
“WHO has designated South Africa as the first location, and I said logically Indonesia should be the second.”
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The new “technology transfer centers” are part of a WHO strategy to distribute vaccine production more widely globally and to build capacity in developing countries to manufacture next-generation vaccines like the nucleic acid-based mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer which can be quickly adapted to handle new virus variants.
Efforts to develop a base for the production of COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa will focus on attempting to replicate Moderna’s fire, but a lack of progress in talks with the U.S. company means the project will take time, a senior WHO official told Reuters.
Budi said Indonesia is keen to develop expertise in mRNA vaccines, as well as injections of viral vectors such as those produced by AstraZeneca.
A WHO spokesperson said Indonesia was one of 25 low and middle-income countries to express interest in hosting a vaccination center, but declined to say whether it s was one of the main candidates.
Budi said Indonesia is in a good position to export vaccines to the world, especially since it is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world and could ensure its vaccines were halal or authorized according to Islam. .
Indonesia is grappling with one of the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia and has recorded more than 4.1 million infections and 139,000 deaths, although public health experts say the actual numbers are probably several times higher.
Indonesia’s rate of infections and deaths has declined sharply in recent weeks but, with just 25% of its target population of 208 million people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it still has a significant vaccination effort ahead, especially since it will probably have to provide third booster shots.
Budi said pharmaceutical companies in Indonesia are in talks with vaccine manufacturers and developers Anhui, Walvax, Sinovac, Genexine, Arcturus Therapeutics and Novavax. Discussions range from basic “fill and finish” to upstream production and research and development, he added.
“We are also opening the same opportunities to AstraZeneca. We are also open to the existing partner Pfizer,” he said. “We are open to everyone.”
Bambang Heriyanto, secretary general of Bio Farma, Indonesia’s largest state-owned pharmaceutical company, confirmed that talks are underway and the first step is to collaborate on technology transfer. It would take two or three years to build a fully operational production facility, he said.
Budi said Indonesia will use its leadership in the G-20 group of countries from December to promote global health security and prepare for the next pandemic after the coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV -2.
“No one can guarantee that SARS-CoV-3 and 4 won’t come.”
(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.