Africa’s high Covid vaccine plant faces unsure future after manufacturing halted

Manufacturing at Africa’s largest Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing plant has been halted for the previous month due to a collapse in demand, placing its future doubtful and threatening to undermine efforts to construct a homegrown vaccine trade on the continent.

Executives at Aspen Pharmacare, a South Africa-based pharmaceutical firm that has produced about 180mn doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, worry they must completely shut their two Covid jab manufacturing strains, until a brand new order is available in shortly.

Stavros Nicolaou, a senior govt at Aspen, advised the Monetary Occasions the way forward for manufacturing on the plant was “doubtful”.

“If there aren’t any orders imminently . . . the capability that has been established by Aspen . . . is not sustainable, and nobody goes to maintain manufacturing strains going,” he mentioned. “If Aspen can’t produce Covid vaccines, what hope is there for others.”

He added that until the difficulty was resolved, the drive to extend regional manufacturing would “stay only a political nicety which has no substance”.

If manufacturing stops on the Aspen facility, regional well being officers worry it may undermine an African Union objective to provide 60 per cent of all vaccines administered in Africa domestically by 2040, up from simply 1 per cent now.

The shortage of native vaccine manufacturing and a bidding warfare with richer, western nations meant international locations on this planet’s poorest continent have been final in line for doses. Constructing native vaccine manufacturing capability is seen as essential to plans to keep away from a repeat of the inequality within the occasion of a brand new variant or pandemic.

Final yr, Aspen signed a licensing cope with J&J to bottle and promote the single-shot jab throughout Africa. The drugmaker additionally introduced plans to scale up vaccine manufacturing capability to 1.3bn doses a yr by 2024, up from 300mn now.

However an oversupply of Covid-19 jabs has stymied the drugmaker’s plans, as J&J haven’t purchased extra doses and no orders have been made for Aspenovax, the licensed vaccine.

The final doses have been bottled on the Aspen facility in late March. The halt in manufacturing at Aspen follows the choice by India’s Serum Institute to cease manufacturing Covishield, its model of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, final December. The Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, mentioned it had 200mn doses of the shot in stockpile.

African leaders are holding emergency talks to see if they’ll throw the plant a lifeline — both by pushing J&J to provide the roughly 240mn doses they owe the African Union at Aspen or by encouraging the Covax vaccine scheme to order doses of Aspenovax.

However J&J advised the FT that it already has tens of thousands and thousands of vaccines in inventory that could possibly be shipped to international locations instantly. Covax already has agreements in place to entry greater than 2bn doses.

“We can’t again away from our pronouncements and commitments that we made on the top of this pandemic,” mentioned Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Illness Management and Prevention. “If this firm fails, it sends a really poor sign concerning the goal all of us agreed to develop vaccine manufacturing in Africa.”

BioNTech will arrange manufacturing amenities on the continent this yr and the World Well being Group’s mRNA vaccine know-how switch hub is sharing the method for Moderna’s jab with six African international locations.

Uncertainty over Aspen’s future “rams residence the purpose you could’t construct and maintain amenities that solely produce pandemic vaccines”, in accordance with Patrick Tippoo, govt director of the Africa Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative.

“We’ve sufficient Covid vaccines on this planet,” he mentioned. “It’s about making certain that the capacities that now we have developed or enlarged are sustained over the long-term by different vaccines in order that when the following pandemic strikes these capacities can be found.”

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