Aspen Pharmacare could start production of Johnson & Johnson (J &J) COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa by late March or early April if all approvals are in place, a senior company executive said.
All the vaccines produced will be exported to J&J and will be a part of its global supply inventory, Stavros Nicolaou, Group Senior Executive, Strategic Trade at Aspen, added.
“We are going to receive a tech transfer to contract manufacture for them (J&J)… Aspen has current capacity to manufacture up to 300 million doses of COVID vaccine,” Nicolaou said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, adding that these will be exported to J&J.
South Africa’s government is in talks with J&J in an effort to secure some of this product for its own consumption. J&J is in the final phase of its clinical trials and is likely to announce results by the end of January, Nicolaou added.
J&J did not reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment. South Africa’s health ministry did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The government has been criticised by scientists and healthcare workers for moving too slowly to procure COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate South Africans.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday that South Africa plans to get its first vaccines in February and could vaccinate up to 40 million people over a year to reach herd immunity.
But the government has not signed any big bilateral deals with any of the vaccine manufacturers, although it said the country would get 1.5 million vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (SII).
The government is also sourcing vaccines from the COVAX Facility, a global distribution scheme under which South Africa will start getting vaccines by the second quarter of 2021 for 10% of its population of 58 million.
Nicolaou said he was not privy to the status of the negotiations, but the government had requested that Aspen “impress upon” J&J to set aside some vaccines.
South Africa is exploring the following COVID-19 vaccines:
First batch to arrive in January
Mkhize has announced that the country will be receiving the first batch of vaccine from India this month and another next month.
He says that priority will be given to the country’s more than one million health workers in both the private and public sectors.
Mkhize was briefing Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health on the roll out strategy of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Today, I am pleased to announce that the institute of India has given us permission to make a public announcement in preparation for the roll out to 1.25 million health workers to both private and public health workers. South Africa will receive the first 1 000 000 doses of vaccine in January and another 500 000 in February our teams are fine tuning all the regulation processes.”
Mkhize has also reiterated that they are approaching medical aid schemes and the business sector for assistance to obtain funding for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Mkhize briefs the Portfolio Committee on status of healthcare services: