A lack of demand could jeopardize the manufacture of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in South Africa. Paul Adepoju reports.
Global inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapy have given rise to a major push to expand the local manufacturing of healthcare technologies in Africa. In March, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that less than 1% of the vaccines administered on the continent are locally produced, reducing the countries’ ability to respond to pandemics and other health crises. A new plan aims to enable Africa to locally produce 60% of its vaccine needs by 2040. However, this plan may be undercut by lack of demand.
An agreement to strengthen the manufacture of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine was secured by South Africa-based Aspen Pharmacare in December 2021. At a press briefing on April 14, Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong told reporters that countries do not order the vaccine. He added that if this situation continues, “the risk is very, very high for the company [Aspen] can actually stop producing the J&J COVID vaccines ”. Nkengasong noted that countries are reluctant to pay for Aspen’s vaccine doses because hundreds of millions of free doses are now widely available – with some now struggling to quickly roll out the shots before they expire. Pr. By April 25, 16% of the African population had been fully vaccinated. Of the 760 million total doses the continent has received, nearly 507 million have been administered. He described such reluctance as short-term.
Under the agreement, Aspen can fill vials with vaccine supplied by Johnson & Johnson, package the vaccine doses and sell the finished form in Africa. Strive Masiyiwa, the African Union’s special envoy for COVID-19 and head of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, which brokered the agreement with Johnson & Johnson, said the contract is for 400 million doses. “It brings us one step closer to securing Africa’s future vaccine production and ensures that the gross vaccine inequality we witnessed in the early part of the pandemic is not repeated,” Masiyiwa said in November 2021. However, no African country has so far bought doses from Aspen.
Johnson & Johnson did not comment on a potential halt to the production of COVID-19 vaccines, but said they are aware of the challenges that vaccine manufacturers are experiencing as the demand for COVID-19 vaccines develops globally. Aspen Pharmacare declined to comment.
Nkengasong said discussions have begun with Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance and COVAX about the possibility of ordering COVID-19 vaccine doses from Aspen Pharmacare to ensure the plant does not suspend its COVID-19 vaccine production line. Gavi, as co-leader of COVAX, said it “proactively supports the expansion of regional production efforts as a fundamental cornerstone of the pandemic preparedness of the future”.
This was stated by the Nigerian public health analyst Ifeanyi Nsofor The Lancet that the reluctance of African countries to buy locally produced vaccine raises concerns about the fate of several other COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing initiatives in Africa. “African countries need to step up vaccination efforts to eliminate these backlogs to prevent the expiration of vaccines before purchasing more doses. The African Union must encourage the participation of the private sector in Africa in the efforts to produce vaccines on the continent and should coordinate through the African Medical Supplies Platform, ”said Nsofor The Lancet.
Shu-Shu Tekle-Haimanot, senior adviser at The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, noted that among the African countries that will be involved in vaccine production against COVID-19 and other diseases, there is a need to “understand the economy”. to scale and also to create the markets for them. ”She said that the availability of and access to help, including access to free vaccines, could have made many African countries complacent.
“It will provide the opportunity to gather resources to respond in a timely manner when we have these outbreaks. It may not be in the billions. [of dollars]but it will be something that will kick-start an emergency response when we are challenged with epidemics or outbreaks “, he said The Lancet.
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