Johannesburg, Nov 30 (PTI) South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has welcomed a breakthrough deal between the country’s Aspen Pharmacare and pharmaceutical multinational Johnson & Johnson for Covid-19 vaccines being manufactured in South Africa for distribution to the African continent as part of efforts to end vaccine inequality.
“The effectiveness of our response as the African continent to the COVID-19 pandemic has been severely hampered by the grossly unequal distribution of COVID vaccines across the world,” said Ramaphosa, who has been the African Union COVID champion.
Ramaphosa launched a plea to the Western nations to end vaccine inequality, together with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the height of the pandemic amid global shortages of the vaccine.
“Today’s landmark announcement between Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare and Johnson & Johnson is the culmination of months of hard work with, among others, the African Union, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, in developing production capacity on the continent.
“This announcement has the potential to make an important contribution to addressing vaccine inequality and building Africa’s capacity to meet its own vaccine needs now and into the future,“ Ramaphosa said.
The agreement between the two companies will expand the existing technical transfer and manufacturing agreements between them to grant Aspen SA the rights to manufacture finished SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 vaccine product from COVID-19 drug substance supplied by Johnson & Johnson; and sell the finished form vaccine.
The vaccine will be branded as Aspenovax and sold to public sector markets in Africa through transactions with designated multilateral organisations and with national governments of member states of the African Union.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequitable access to vaccines globally. This is evident no more so than in Africa which has historically had no option but to import 99% of its vaccine requirements,” said Aspen CEO Stephen Saad.
“Those regions with manufacturing capacity and capabilities have enjoyed ready access to COVID-vaccines, those without have not. Africa remains vaccine constrained, preventing an effective response to the need to protect Africans against the virus.
“We are most grateful to Johnson & Johnson for their confidence in collaborating with Aspen to address these challenges,” Saad said.
Saad said manufacturing Aspenovax and releasing it exclusively for supply to African customers would render it “a COVID-19 vaccine made in Africa for Africa.” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, shared this sentiment.
“This cooperation and technology transfer arrangement is an important step forward towards increasing Africa’s manufacturing capacity and the push to ramp up access to vaccines and other key medical interventions,“ Moeti said.
The agreement includes a good faith undertaking between the parties to discuss the expansion of the agreement to include any new versions of the drug substance, such as those developed for new variants or as a different formulation for administration as a booster.
Aspen is one of Africa’s largest drug makers, with the capacity to manufacture up to 300 million doses of the J&J jab, with plans to increase that to more than 700 million by January 2023. PTI FH AMS AMS