Why the unprecedented production of a Covid vaccine on the African continent risks ending

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to produce vaccines against the disease on African soil in order to reduce countries’ dependence on the outside has become imperative. Also, the situation for South African drug group Aspen Pharmacare now appears paradoxical: the company has just announced that the future of its South African Covid-19 serum production plant is uncertain due to a lack of orders. However, it all started we will.

After months of negotiations that began in November 2021, South African subsidiary Aspen Pharmacare concluded on March 8, 2022. An agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson) allowed it to produce and market a Covid-19 vaccine on the African continent under the brand name Aspenovax. The serum was made from a pharmaceutical substance supplied by the US company Johnson & Johnson. “With the conclusion of this agreement, our vision for the African Aspinovax vaccine, has become a reality!“, Aspen CEO Stephen Saad said at the signing of the deal that was supposed to run until 2026.

The same story is with John Nkengasong, director of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). Who would have appreciated that this signature “It was an important moment for the continent (because she let him) To own, manufacture and distribute the first vaccine (against Covid-19) Which will cover 55 countries in the African Union, thus improving access to vaccines on the continent”.

Aspen was especially expecting orders from the international initiative Covax that allows the most disadvantaged countries to get vaccinated and from its African counterpart, AVAT (African Vaccine Acquisition Fund). “We will be able to deliver 35 million doses of the vaccine per month by June.”confirmed in March Aspen CEO Stephen Saad to Reuters.

“If we do not receive any orders for vaccines, there will obviously be a good reason to keep the lines we are currently using for production. (At the Gqeberha plant, in the Eastern Cape province, Ed.) “Today, Stavros Nikolaou, who is responsible for the drug group’s strategy, laments, according to Reuters.

“If Aspen cannot produce Covid vaccinesAnd What is the hope for others? Stephen Saad adds in columns financial times (paid item). A sentiment shared by John Nkengasong, President of Africa CDC. “If this project fails, it sends a very bad signal about the goal (…) of developing vaccine production in Africa”he also acknowledges financial times.

According to the British daily newspaper, African leaders are now scrambling to buy time, Either by payment (Johnson & Johnson) To produce the approximately 240 million doses we owe to the African Union in Aspen, or by encouraging the Covax vaccination program to order doses of Aspenovax”. only, according to financial timesJohnson & Johnson FeaturesTens of millions of vaccines in stock can be shipped to countries immediately (And) Kovacs already has agreements to reach more than two billion doses.”.

For Patrick Thibault, Executive Director of the Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative in Africa (VAMI) quoted in columns financial timesThe situation in Aspen is indicative of the need “Ensure that the capabilities we develop or expand are supported in the long term by other vaccines so that these capabilities are available in the next pandemic.”. This is essentially the Aspen project, which, according to Reuters, was based on early orders from Aspenovax to give itself a way to produce other vaccines in the future.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 16% of the continent’s population was vaccinated at the beginning of April 2022. South Africa, where the Aspenovax production plant is located, has twice the number of vaccinated people.

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