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Milestone for SA as local plant makes vaccines

Aspen, the pharmaceutical company, confirmed that the first supplies of the J&J Covid-19 vaccines to South Africa, from the new API source located in Europe, was released to J&J from its flagship Gqeberha-based manufacturing site yesterday. I File Photo by Frederic J. BROWN/AFP

Aspen, the pharmaceutical company, confirmed that the first supplies of the J&J Covid-19 vaccines to South Africa, from the new API source located in Europe, was released to J&J from its flagship Gqeberha-based manufacturing site yesterday. I File Photo by Frederic J. BROWN/AFP

Published Jul 27, 2021

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DURBAN - PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa said that 31 million additional vaccine doses from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) meant that there would be sufficient vaccine doses available for the rest of the year.

On Monday, Aspen, a global multinational speciality pharmaceutical company, confirmed that the first supplies of the J&J Covid-19 vaccines to South Africa, from the new API source located in Europe, had been released to J&J from its Gqeberha-based manufacturing site.

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The vaccines would be further distributed throughout South Africa in line with the various distribution arrangements between J&J, the national Department of Health and other stakeholders. In addition, vaccines from these batches would be made available through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team/ AU platform.

This represented a significant landmark for South Africa and the African continent as these vaccines were the first Covid-19 vaccines to be produced on the African continent, by an African producer for South African and African patients. Supplies would also be made to the EU and other offshore markets.

“Aspen is proud of the role we are playing in producing vaccines for distribution in South Africa, across Africa and the world. Our ability to produce these vaccines on behalf of J&J builds on our strategic vision of delivering high quality, affordable medicines that improve health outcomes for patients in our own country, continent and around the world.

“Supply for Africa and South Africa is particularly rewarding, given the current global inequality in accessing vaccines. This represents a big step forward in ensuring that Africa can address its health-care priorities. The manufacture of the J&J Covid-19 vaccine builds on the global contributions we have already made in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic with both our anaesthetics portfolio and dexamethasone supply,” said Aspen Group chief executive Stephen Saad.

Recently, the World Health Organization chose South Africa as a hub for manufacturing vaccines, and last week Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they had signed a letter of intent with The Biovac Institute, a biopharmaceutical company in South Africa, to manufacture the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for distribution within the AU.

On Sunday night President Cyril Ramaphosa said that within the next two to three months, South Africa was scheduled to receive about 31 million additional doses from Pfizer and J&J.

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“This supply pipeline means that there will be sufficient vaccine doses available for the rest of the year.”

Ramaphosa said that as a result of their engagements with pharmaceutical companies and various developed economy governments, the country and the continent had been able to secure vaccines and were able to manufacture vaccines on the continent.

“Aspen, based in Gqeberha, will, from October, be manufacturing vaccines solely for the African continent.

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“While there is ample supply of vaccines for the short term, we must ensure that this supply is delivered on time and without disruption.”

Helen Suzman Foundation legal researcher Sophie Smit said South Africa’s vaccination efforts had long been the target of much criticism, with frequent setbacks being suffered.

Ramaphosa had hoped to increase the number of daily vaccinations to 300 000 within the next few weeks before the violent unrest started. The vaccine roll-out had slowed down with about 50 000 fewer vaccinations taking place per day than before the riots. In KwaZulu-Natal, where the riots have disrupted the vaccine roll-out, fewer than 2 000 people were vaccinated last week.

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“The interruption to the vaccine rollout will not only disrupt the momentum that it had begun to gain, but will also delay the economic recovery of the country with South Africa being forced initially to continue with the intense level 4 restrictions, and the new restrictions under level 3.”

Ramaphosa said that the country was now administering more than 240 000 vaccines daily, an increase from 100 000 vaccines a month ago. “As a result, we have now administered more than 6.3 million vaccines, with over 10% of our population having received a vaccine dose.”

He said that in the coming weeks they would substantially increase the rate of vaccination as well as increase the number of vaccination sites and improve the vaccination registration system. There will also be a vaccination capacity increase on weekends.

“We will now allow people between the ages of 18 and 34 to be vaccinated from September 1, 2021. This will be in addition to the age groups that are currently eligible, which is everyone over 35 years of age.”

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