Africa’s first Covid vaccine plant risks closing after no orders

Africa’s first Covid-19 vaccination plant, touted last year as a pioneer for an undervaccinated continent frustrated by slow Western deliveries, is at risk of closing after not receiving a single order, it said on Saturday. a company executive.

South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare negotiated a license agreement in November to package and sell Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine and distribute it in Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) called the agreement a “transformative moment” on the way to leveling the stark inequalities in access to vaccines.

With only a sixth of adults in Africa fully vaccinated, according to the latest WHO figures from late March, Aspen’s deal to sell an Aspen-branded covid-19 vaccine, Aspenovax, across Africa seemed like a safe bet.

South Africa, which has vaccinated 30 percent of its population, also appears poised to experience a fifth wave of infections.

However, “no orders have been received from Aspenovax,” Aspen senior director Stavros Nicolaou told Reuters by telephone.

“If we don’t get any kind of vaccine order, there will clearly be very little reason to hold back the lines that we are currently using for production,” he said of the Covid-19 vaccine plant in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape. .

logistical problems

African countries have struggled with logistical problems, lack of qualified personnel, cold chains and other problems related to the distribution of vaccines.

Another problem is that, after initially leaving Africa on the sidelines, donor countries have since paid up and the continent is now well supplied.

Nicolaou said that, in the long term, the goal was to switch to producing other vaccines, but that the company had bet on these initial volumes to buy time to establish the operation.

“If you don’t bridge this short-term gap with orders, you can’t maintain these capacities on the continent,” he said, at a time when health officials want to vaccinate three-quarters of the continent’s population.

The African Union’s goal is to produce 60 percent of all vaccines administered in Africa locally by 2040, up from one percent today, and several such plants are being installed.

“If Aspen doesn’t get production, what chance are there for any of the other initiatives?” Mr Nicolaou said.

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