The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the reliance on Big Pharma in the global North to supply life-saving vaccines to the rest of the world is ineffective and dangerous. In this in-depth feature, Amy Maxmen takes a look at global vaccine inequality, and the effort of a network of countries — led by Afrigen, a small biotech firm in Cape Town — that seeks to develop its own mRNA vaccine against COVID and, eventually, other vaccines to tackle diseases in the global South. However, the goodwill of these pharmaceutical companies, like Moderna, is limited.

“Imagine you’re Moderna: mRNA is your baby, and you are making $1,000 per second in profit on it,” she says. “Why would you let this technology go to an open-source kind of model?”

In the meantime, the WHO has continued to press Moderna to license its IP to the hub, or at least share its data, such as the details of clinical trials, that could help Afrigen to confirm that its vaccine candidate meets similar metrics.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.