South Africa’s Aspen aims to sharply increase COVID-19 vaccine production capacity

SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare is aiming to ramp up its COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing capacity to 1.3 billion doses a year by February 2024, up from a current annual output of around 250 million doses, the company’s CEO has said.

Aspen is doing the final stages of manufacturing for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine under a so-called “fill and finish” deal, but CEO Stephen Saad said in an interview that the companies were close to announcing a broader deal for Aspen to produce J&J’s COVID-19 shot under license.

We have got an absolute commitment to 700 million doses till February 2023, within a year after that, we could get to 1.3 billion doses,” Saad said on the sidelines of the opening of Aspen’s anesthetic manufacturing facility at Gqeberha in eastern South Africa.

The company is currently delivering 250 million doses of the final packaged versions of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine on an annualized basis and projects to reach a capacity of 300 million doses per year by November or December.

Under its contract with J&J it has to supply 31 million doses to South Africa. It will also supply up to 400 million to the rest of Africa via an agreement with the African Union.

However, its supplies had been delayed due to a host of problems related to export of the drug substance to manufacture the vaccine and a raft of approvals in the United States and South Africa. It began supplies to South Africa at the end of July.

Saad had said last month that the company was in talks with J&J for a licensing arrangement which would give it the right to not only price the vaccine, but brand it and decide where it is sold.

We have to get through a lot of technical details. But all is progressing well and we expect to respond shortly. It’s not going to be months and months away,” he said.

The South African government had been criticized earlier by bodies including the World Health Organisation for manufacturing vaccines in Africa but allowing them to be exported to Europe, even as the continent lags on vaccination. read more

Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel, who inaugurated the anaesthetic facility, said 100% of the vaccines produced at Aspen’s facility would go to Africa from September.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 from 55 African countries have reached 8,491,839 while over 116,506,161 vaccinations have been administered across the continent.

As countries across Africa struggle to vaccinate 1.3 billion people, the continent faces another obstacle besides a lagging supply of doses: the looming likelihood of a shortage of syringes.

Early next year, Covid-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyze progress,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Africa, said at a news briefing.

Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya have already reported delays in receiving supplies of syringes, according to the W.H.O.

Covax, a global vaccine-sharing initiative that is working to supply many African countries with doses, is now seeking agreements with syringe manufacturers and trying to plan to keep vaccine deliveries from outpacing the availability of needles.

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