South African firm says it may close its COVID vaccine plant

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Africa’s first plant to make a COVID-19 vaccine said it didn’t receive enough orders and could halt production for weeks, a top World Health Organization official said Thursday was a vaccine “Failure” is fair.

South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare says it can’t let its large sterile production facility sit idle and will instead make anaesthetics instead. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company changed its manufacturing approach and achieved the capacity to produce more than 200 million single-use J&J vaccine doses annually.

“It is widely hailed as a great achievement for Africa and a game-changer on the continent. But there has been no follow-up orders. We have not received any orders from large multilateral institutions,” Stavros Nicolaou, senior director of strategic trade development at Aspen Pharmacare, said. Four told The Associated Press.

“COVAX has ordered 2.1 billion doses of the COVID vaccine, but has not placed an order with Aspen or any other African manufacturer,” Nicolaou said, referring to a UN-backed effort to distribute a coronavirus vaccine to poorer countries.

“It’s a big sin to have valuable sterile production capacity that isn’t in use,” Nicolaou said. “We can’t let this capacity sit idle. Unless we get a firm order for a COVID-19 vaccine in the near term, we’re going to have to start from Vaccine production shifted to the production of narcotics.”

Nicolaou said the lack of orders “is not good for Africa’s ambition to reduce its reliance on imported vaccines from 99% to 40%. If we fail the first step, it’s not only bad for Aspen, it’s bad for all other aspirations. The people making the vaccine in Africa are also disadvantaged.”

“This may be a failure, but we will learn from it,” Dr Abdul Salam Geyer, WHO’s head of emergencies in Africa, said at a news conference on Thursday. He added that if With orders rising, factories may reopen relatively quickly.

“Unfortunately, the factory has not received enough orders,” he said, adding that two-thirds of Africa’s vaccines are obtained through COVAX, which is ordered by the vaccine alliance Gavi.

He said Gavi had previously said they did not plan to order any more vaccines because about 30% of vaccine shipments to Africa had not been vaccinated given the ongoing logistical problems.

Gavi said in a statement that Aspen is an “active part” of Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing network and that the Vaccine Alliance is “very enthusiastic” about purchasing a COVID vaccine made in Africa.

But it said the footage came from outside the continent when J&J fulfilled its COVAX orders.

“COVAX still has a contract with J&J, and we’ll be very happy with whatever doses we still expect from Aspen,” Gavi said. “We have informed J&J about this. However, this is again a decision that is entirely up to J&J.”

Health officials have repeatedly denounced the concentration of vaccine production in rich countries, citing a lack of manufacturing capacity in poorer countries as one of several factors that kept them behind when they initially produced a COVID-19 vaccine last year.

Some experts say Aspen’s imminent shutdown should change the world’s attitude toward public health security.

“The global community spends billions of dollars to support military defenses that may never be used, but refuses to spend a fraction of that in support of global health defenses,” said Zain Rizvi, research director at Public Citizens Advocacy.

Global buyers like COVAX should support manufacturers in poorer countries, he said, describing the global distribution of vaccine production as “our protection against this virus.”

The production of locally-produced vaccines at the Aspen facility is reportedly seen as the first step in Africa’s efforts to meet its own vaccine needs — but has reportedly been hit by a backlash after reports last year that most of its vaccines were exported to Europe. major criticism. Its deal with Johnson & Johnson.

While nearly 70 percent of people in wealthy countries have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, only 17 percent of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have been vaccinated, according to statistics released Thursday by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In South Africa, 45% of adults are fully vaccinated, although around 85% of the population is thought to have some immunity based on past exposure to the virus.

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