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UPDATE 2-Sinovac in talks about setting up South Africa vaccine production

* Sinovac launches COVID vaccine trial in S.Africa

* Enrolling 2,000 children, adolescents locally

* Partner says in talks over manufacturing facility

* Top scientist argues vaccinating children critical (Adds Gray comments, context, TV identifier)

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 10 (Reuters) - China’s Sinovac Biotech is in talks about setting up a vaccine production facility in South Africa to supply the African continent with shots against a range of diseases, the chief executive of its local partner said on Friday.

Numolux Group CEO Hilton Klein made the comments at the launch of the South African leg of a global Phase III trial of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine in children and adolescents.

“This clinical trial is a precursor to the establishment of a South African vaccine manufacturing facility partnered by Sinovac and Numolux Group that will cover the entire spectrum of vaccinations beyond just the COVID-19 response,” Klein told a news conference.

“We are in talks with Sinovac to set up a vaccine manufacturing facility. A phase one where we will do bottling and labelling so that we can get vaccines out to the people of Africa as soon as possible,” he added. “Vaccines in Africa for Africa.”

Sinovac did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sinovac and Numolux are enrolling 2,000 participants in the South African leg of their study evaluating the efficacy, immunogenicity and safety of the CoronaVac vaccine against COVID-19 on children and adolescents aged 6 months to 17 years.

The global trial will enrol 14,000 participants, also in Chile, the Philippines, Malaysia and Kenya.

Professor Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, said vaccinating children against COVID-19 was critical, especially in low- and middle-income countries like South Africa where they can account for up to 30% of the population.

“We are very supportive of children being enrolled in this study,” she said.

“Delay in the inclusion of children in vaccine trials involves the potential denial of clinical benefit to the child, their family and their extended family,” said Gray, who was co-principal investigator of the local leg of Johnson & Johnson’s global Phase III study.

South Africa’s government is considering using the CoronaVac vaccine in its immunisation programme alongside shots developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson which have been administered so far.

The country’s drugs regulator SAHPRA in July gave conditional authorisation for use of Sinovac’s vaccine against COVID-19 for people aged between 18 and 59 years. But last month a senior health official told Reuters the government was looking for more information from the Chinese company on how its vaccine performs against the Delta coronavirus variant as well as in populations with HIV.

South Africa’s vaccination campaign started slowly due to onerous negotiations with pharmaceutical companies and the emergence of the Beta coronavirus variant, which scuppered plans to use AstraZeneca’s shot from February.

So far, more than 10.5 million of the country’s 60 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine, equivalent to around 17% of the population.

Reporting by Alexander Winning Editing by Mark Potter, Louise Heavens and Susan Fenton

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