AFRICAN multilateral agencies need to step in to prevent the continent from losing its first Covid-19 production facility and the best chance it has to reduce its reliance on other imported vaccines, Aspen Pharmacare senior executive Stavros Nicolaou said yesterday.
Aspen is producing vaccines under licence from two production lines at its plant, one to produce Covid-19 vaccine for Johnson & Johnson and the other to produce Aspen branded Covid-19 vaccines, Aspenovax, for the broader African market.
Nicolaou said they had already produced 180 million doses of vaccine for Johnson & Johnson, but no orders for Aspenovax were forthcoming yet from African procurers of such vaccines, which typically would provide vaccines to the broader African market.
He said the continent imports 99 percent of all its vaccine requirements apart from Covid-19 vaccine, and “Africa’s health sovereignty will never be its own” if Aspen were forced to close the Covid-19 vaccine facility due to a lack of orders.
He said Aspen had viewed the Covid-19 vaccine production as a first step toward manufacturing other vaccines for the continent.
“If Aspen can’t get this right on the continent, who else will be able to do it?”
He said if the production from the two vaccine production lines was changed to produce other pharmaceuticals, it would be difficult to simply resume production of Covid-19 vaccine thereafter, if the pandemic required it.
He said that with the fifth Covid-19 wave spreading in South Africa, the possibility that it would spread to other African countries, the uncertainty surrounding potentially new Covid variants in the future, and the likelihood of further vaccine developments, it was essential that the continent’s first production facility of the vaccine be supported with new orders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had called the licensing deal between Aspen and Johnson & Johnson a “transformative moment” in the drive towards levelling the global inequalities in access to Covid-19 vaccines.
WHO statistics indicated that only a sixth of adults in Africa were fully vaccinated, while South Africa has vaccinated about 30 percent of its population.
African countries have struggled with logistical issues, lack of skilled staff, cold chains and other problems surrounding the distribution of vaccines. Also, according to Reuters, after initially leaving Africa out in the cold, donor countries had since supplied the continent with vaccines..
The African Union’s goal is to produce 60 percent of all vaccines administered in Africa locally by 2040.
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