Pharmaceutical company, Aspen, says its ultimate goal is to secure a licence to produce its own COVID-19 vaccine. Aspen says this will ensure control of the production and distribution of the vaccine, especially to African countries, which are in dire need.
The multinational pharmaceutical company currently has an arrangement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to produce the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at its plant in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape.
Aspen says it has the capacity to manufacture between 20 to 25 million Johnson and Johnson vaccines per month. These batches of vaccines manufactured by Aspen are made available to the African Union platform for distribution.
Aspen Strategic Trade Executive, Stavros Nicolaou says most of the vaccines by the company will go to African countries.
“Of course Africa needs to vaccinate 750 to 800 million of its citizens in order to achieve herd immunity on the continent, like South Africa, Africa has had a late start. I have indicated that the problem that the vaccine inequality has posed and South Africa and Africa have been the hardest hit. We will continue manufacturing as Aspen for South Africa and Africa as a whole and a significant chunk of what we manufacture will go into Africa. Everything that Aspen produces from October will all go to South Africa and Africa.”
Africa’s own vaccine
There has been opposing views from experts on whether the African continent can manufacture its own vaccine. Executive Director of Bhekisisa, Mia Milan believes it will take years for African countries to be able to produce their own vaccines due to the complexity involved in producing them.
“The technology transfer is so intensive and takes so long that the actual production process for the fill and finish of the Pfizer biotech vaccine in South Africa would only start in 2022 and the contract was already signed at the end of June, so just that last process already takes more than six months for that technology transfer. If we want to get Biovac to actually produce the active ingredient that would be a much longer process, it could take years.”
Researcher of Chemical Processing, Prof Paul Watts from Nelson Mandela University believes the continent has the capacity to produce its own vaccine. He believes the vaccines produced by Aspen if only distributed in the continent, it will speed up the vaccination programme.
“I am originally from the UK and I would be embarrassed if the products that are being manufactured here end up going to the rich countries who are already stockpiling vaccines. This pandemic is not going to go away until there is vaccine equality and as many people in all countries receive the vaccines and treated for this horrible pandemic.”
Aspen says Johnson and Johnson have agreed to pursue a full licence with them. This would mean that Aspen will have control of the product including its allocation distribution and where the product finds itself on the African continent.