SANDTON (CU)_Since the beginning of the pandemic, African nations have been struggling with unequal COVID vaccine policies, with just a sixth of adults from across the continent being fully vaccinated owing to sluggish Western handouts. Against this backdrop, South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare’s move to locally manufacture COVID vaccines was hailed across the continent, but the firm is now struggling with poor demand for shots.
In March this year, Aspen completed a deal to package, sell and distribute Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ.N vaccine, which was seen as a game-changing moment for the under-vaccinated African continent. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its Coronavirus vaccine partner Gavi are saying they have no immediate plans to buy shots made by the Sandton-based pharmaceutical company, dealing a blow to the region’s efforts to develop its own vaccine production capacity.
Last week, Aspen’s chief executive Stephen Saad told Reuters that the company may be forced to re-purpose about half of its vaccine production capacity if demand does not improve. Meanwhile, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging organisations which procure shots for African nations to prioritise locally manufactured vaccines. Nevertheless, the global COVID-19 vaccine-sharing programme COVAX, backed by the WHO and the global vaccine alliance Gavi, has said that it does not intend place orders with Aspen at the moment because of oversupply.
“In the case of Aspen, the current overall demand situation means we are currently not in a position to buy large quantities of vaccines,” a Gavi spokesperson said. “However, we are in discussion to see if a collaboration would be feasible as part of expanding regional supply.”
According to WHO’s Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, Kate O’Brien, the 380 million vaccine doses required by COVAX for the second and third quarters of this year have already been secured. “COVAX … has more supply than is at present being demanded by countries, and that’s a good place to be in,” she said.