The Aspen Pharmacare Covid-19 vaccination plant in the Eastern Cape is set to stop manufacturing Covid jabs and repurpose the facility to produce anesthetics within the next six weeks if it does not receive any orders for its Aspenovax vaccine.
South African Aspen Pharmacare senior director Stavros Nicolaou said the next six weeks will reveal whether or not they will have to permanently stop production of the COVID-19 vaccines due to a lack of orders from leading procurement agencies.
“If we do not receive orders, we cannot sustain those two lines. We are going to repurpose back to making anesthetics or any other product but then we will lose the capacity for Covid-19 vaccines for the continent. if we do not get orders from COVAX or Gavi, which are the global procurement facilities that procure these vaccines for Africa, we will have to eventually repurpose back into producing something else so that we can sustain the lines,” said Nicolaou.
Looking for solutions
Gavi said the current demand for the COVID-19 vaccines does not warrant COVAX placing orders with Aspen Pharmacare.
“It is difficult predicting what this demand may look like in 2023 – when Aspenovax becomes available – this means we are currently not able to make firm commitments for large quantities of vaccines,” said a spokesperson for Gavi.
But the organisation said it is in talks to try to find a solution.
“In the case of Aspen, we remain in discussions with partners to see if a collaboration would be feasible. COVAX is also supporting efforts to drive delivery in AMC-supported countries, where demand is currently insufficient to take advantage of available supply,” the spokesperson said.
COVAX is the global COVID-19 vaccine-sharing programme aimed at equitable access. It is backed by the World Health Organisation, the global vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
In November last year, Aspen Pharmacare was given the green light, amid much fanfare, to re-package and sell the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines. The aim was to produce over 356-million COVID-19 vaccines in a year to cut Africa’s reliance on the West. But orders have failed to come in from Covid-19 procurement agencies.
#ICYMI: South Africa’s only COVID-19 vaccine plant is at risk of closure because it’s yet to receive a single vaccine order (reporting via @Reuters).
— Alliance for Trade Enforcement (@AFTEnforcement) May 9, 2022
Continued vaccine inequality
According to Nicolaou, Covid-19 vaccine inequality is set to continue in Africa as the local capacity to produce and manufacture vaccines is being lost due to a lack of orders.
Nicolaou said Africa imports 99 percent of its vaccines and pleaded with international vaccine procurement agencies to buy from the continent.
“The bottom line here is that there is a dire and urgent need for these international procurement facilities to start changing the way they procure these vaccines and medicines, and they must start procuring in Africa,” he added.
According to the World Health Organisation, director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, hesitancy due to misinformation and disinformation is limiting demand for vaccines.
“Availability of vaccines has improved significantly, but a combination of lack of political commitment, operational capacity problems, financial constraints, and hesitancy due to misinformation and disinformation is limiting demand for vaccines. We urge all countries to address these bottlenecks to protect their population,” said Ghebreyesus.
He further said; “In many countries, we are essentially blind to how the virus is mutating. We don’t know what’s coming next. I am troubled that highly effective antivirals are still not accessible to people in low-and middle-income countries. Low availability and high prices have led some countries to rule out buying these life-saving treatments,”.
Meanwhile, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reportedly working behind the scenes to prevent the closure of Aspen’s vaccine production line.
The Gavi spokesperson added that developing regional manufacturer hubs in lower-income countries would be critical for countries to become more self-sufficient, both during a pandemic and for routine Immunisation.
“COVAX is committed to diversifying global supply, including through the development of regional manufacturing sites, especially in Africa. This is the case not just for COVID vaccines as other life-saving vaccines require greater supplier diversity, supply security, or improved product profiles. “ – Health-e News.