‘Africa’s only COVID-19 vaccine plant under threat’

The global organisations that buy Covid vaccines for poorer countries “need to step up” and order doses from Africa’s only Covid vaccine maker in order to save the production line, the company’s senior executive told the BBC.

This follows warnings from Aspen Pharmacare that it may have to stop production at its South African plant.

It has been hit by low demand.

Fewer than one in six Africans have had two doses of a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, with many reluctant to get jabbed.

The continent’s top health body has also urged those buying the jabs for Africa to place orders with Aspen.

Last November, Aspen negotiated a licensing deal to package and sell Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine for distribution across Africa.

At the time, the deal was seen as a major boost for African countries which received far fewer doses than richer parts of the world.

South African President, CyrilRamaphosa, said that he was working with his counterparts in Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt and Ghana in order “to make sure that vaccines that will be used on our own continent are actually bought from companies that make vaccines here”.

But Aspen’s group senior executive, Stavros Nicolau, told the BBC that purchases from African governments alone would not be enough to save the Covid vaccine production line in South Africa.

He said that Covax – the United Nations (UN)-backed body set up to get more jabs to less well-off countries – should have done more to buy doses from the African producer.

Mr Nicolau said that none of the two billion doses purchased by Covax came from the continent.

Global procurers “need to step up” and change where they are buying from, he added.

But the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, which is responsible for procurement on behalf of Covax, said the issue was currently one of demand.

Initially, in 2020 and 2021, as Aspen was “part of the broader manufacturing network for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine”, Gavi had no say over how much each company would supply to Covax, a Gavi spokesperson said.

Now, however, Aspen has a licence to produce and sell Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine under the brand name Aspenovax. -BBC

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