Jordan can produce vaccine — expert

Photo by Zoe Salah-Mawajdeh at his office at Hikma Pharmaceuticals, a multinational pharmaceutical company with headquarters in London. Mawajdeh formerly served as the Minister of Health and the head
Former health minister Salah-Mawajdeh at his Amman office at Hikma Pharmaceuticals, a multinational pharmaceutical company with headquarters in London (Photo: Zoe Sottile/JNews)
AMMAN — Jordan has “the right ingredients” to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine, but is “missing the catalyst that will bring everyone together,” Salah Mawajdeh, adviser for government affairs for the Middle East and North Africa for Hikma Pharmaceuticals, said in an interview with Jordan News. اضافة اعلان

“I think it’s the wish of any country to be in the business of biotechnology in general, not just vaccines,” Mawajdeh, who served as health minister in two former governments and headed Jordan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for four years, said. 

“But the story is not that simple. Biotechnology is a complex science, it needs a lot of investment.”

In some ways, Jordan is well-equipped to produce complex pharmaceutical products like a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Mawajdeh, pointing out Jordan’s long-lived and successful pharmaceutical industry, which began in the 1960s. 

He also highlighted Jordan’s conducive legislative environment, strong regulatory body, capable clinical trial system, and advanced academic institutions. 

Still, “to move from an idea to commercialization is a long process,” according to Mawajdeh. 

“We will not manufacture a vaccine in two days,” he said, pointing out that countries that successfully manufactured vaccines devoted large amounts of resources to the task. 

“If you look at the vaccine market globally, the number of players is limited, which shows the difficulty. While if you look at the number of companies that manufacture the prescription drugs we all consume, antibiotics, etc., you have hundreds or thousands of companies around the world … it’s like an exclusive club of companies that reached the level of know-how.” 

The pundit also explained that manufacturers in Jordan could start with simpler vaccines — such as the inactivated technology used in the Sinopharm vaccine — then progress to more complex vaccines, such as the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer-NBiotech and Moderna.

A combination of lack of funding and mismatch between supply and demand explain the limited vaccines currently available in Jordan, according to Mawajdeh.  

“Jordan and any country similar to it, which is the vast majority of the globe outside Europe and the United States, will remain in the wait-and-see stance,” he said. 

“You will have to wait. The waiting part i think is the worst part. The world cannot just wait. Economic and social well-being are linked; when the economic situation is so tight, there will be social implications. I don’t think any country will be able to withstand it for long periods of time.”

However, he noted that the entire world “cannot just wait for everyone to be vaccinated based on the production plan of let’s say five companies in the world. It cannot be done.”

Mawajdeh called for regional collaboration to produce a vaccine by pooling resources. “The economic formula would work if there is regional collaboration. This is easier said than done. The regional collaboration has some prerequisites, which we don’t have now, but we need to work on it if this is the right approach,” he said. 

“If you take Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, even up to Morocco, none of them reached even 5 percent of immunization. There are so many other small countries in the region” that do not necessarily have the financial resources or technical know-how to manufacture a vaccine, Mawajdeh told Jordan News.

“Pooling resources together, you can have the right ingredients for research and development, clinical trials, manufacturing, operations, and distribution.” 

However, “collaboration at the regional level is not easy. It’s an issue of governance and structure, who puts money, who manages, who leads, who sits on the board,” he said.