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European Union leaders on Thursday lauded the bloc’s vaccine cooperation with Africa in the fight against the coronavirus, but there was no sign they would move toward a temporary lifting of intellectual property rights protection for COVID-19 shots.

Speaking on the first day of an EU-Africa summit in Brussels, the head of the European Commission said the EU will continue to focus in the short term on the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.
Ursula von der Leyen said the 27-nation region will also invest in the long run to help the continent produce shots locally. She said « two state-of-the-art factories » in Rwanda and Senegal are expected to be built this year.
« It is about the capacity of Africa to produce their own vaccines, to develop mRNA manufacturing capacity across Africa, » von der Leyen said. « We are making rapid progress. »
Von der Leyen said that the EU is supporting the WHO initiative to set up a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccine production in South Africa.
« We are confident this hub will empower African scientists and companies, » she said. « This is not only about production of COVID-19 vaccines. The mRNA technology can also be used for vaccines against other widespread diseases in Africa, like malaria and tuberculosis. »
Despite calls from India and South Africa supported by the African Union for a temporary intellectual property waiver that would allow more manufacturers to produce the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, the EU still believes this is not the right solution.
The bloc favors voluntary agreement with companies that allow transfer of technologies and know-how to produce safe vaccines.
Speaking in Brussels, South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa said his demand for lifting vaccine patents was still on the table, adding that « it takes a conversation. »
Speaking at the summit, French president Emmanuel Macron said Africa currently produces just 1% of the current vaccines while requiring 20% of all shots.
The EU is the largest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines and said it has shared almost 145 million doses with Africa, with a goal of reaching at least 450 million shots by the summer. But some NGO’s have criticized the EU for prioritizing profits by selling doses to rich countries while exporting only a small fraction of shots to Africa.
According to WHO figures, only 11% of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated, compared to the global average of about 50%.
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