Listed speciality pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare confirmed the release of the first supplies of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines to South Africa, from its flagship site in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.
The vaccines, from a new API source located in Europe, will be released to Johnson & Johnson from Aspen’s Gqeberha-based manufacturing site later on Monday.
It comes after president Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening pledged to substantially increase the rate of vaccination in the country in the coming weeks.
These vaccines, Aspen said, will be further distributed throughout South Africa in line with the various distribution arrangements between Johnson & Johnson, the National Department of Health and other stakeholders.
In addition, vaccines from these batches will be made available through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team/African Union platform, the group said in a statement on Monday (26 July).
“This represents a significant landmark for South Africa and Africa as these are the first Covid-19 vaccines to be produced on the African continent, by an African producer for South African and African patients.
“Supplies will also be made to the European Union and other offshore markets,” Aspen said.
Ramping up vaccinations
President Ramaphosa said that the government will increase the number of vaccination sites, and improve the country’s vaccination registration system. “We will also increase our vaccination capacity on weekends,” he said in an address to the nation.
South Africa has administered in excess of 6.3 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to date, which translates to over 10% of the population.
The pool for vaccinations will also be opened up to allow people between the ages of 18 and 34 to be vaccinated from 1 September 2021. “This will be in addition to the age groups that are currently eligible, which is everyone over 35 years of age,” the president said.
People will also be able to present themselves at a vaccination site without an appointment and be registered and vaccinated, for the first time.
“This substantial increase in the rate of vaccination is made possible by improvements in the supply of vaccines. Within the next two to three months, we are scheduled to receive around 31 million additional doses from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson,” Ramaphosa said.
“This supply pipeline means that there will be sufficient vaccine doses available for the rest of the year.”
Aspen will from October be manufacturing vaccines solely for the African continent, Ramaphosa said.
“A few weeks ago the World Health Organization chose South Africa as hub for the manufacture of vaccines. A few days ago, the Biovac Institute in Cape Town was appointed to manufacture the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for distribution within Africa.”
Ramaphosa also highlighted the importance of monitoring the emergence of new variants, “and to secure access to future vaccines that are adapted to these variants”.
Gqeberha manufacturing site
Aspen said it has invested in excess of R3 billion at its Gqeberha sterile manufacturing site, the single largest investment in the pharmaceutical industry in South Africa.
The new sterile facility contains high-technology, state-of-the-art pharmaceutical equipment and systems that will be used to manufacture advanced sterile medicines, including vaccines.
At the end of June, The World Bank and a trio of western government agencies announced a financing package for the production of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in South Africa, part of an effort to scale global production, Bloomberg reported.
The 600 million euro deal will support Aspen Pharmacare in producing 500 million doses of the shots through 2022. Of that amount, 30 million will be produced for use in South Africa in 2021, out of a total of 250 million due by the end of the year.
The deal builds on an existing license between Aspen and J&J and includes no new intellectual property agreement, Bloomberg reported, citing US officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the deal.
It’s aimed at building up production of vaccines outside a handful of countries as part of the overall effort to make billions of shots needed to quell the pandemic, they said.
J&J will provide the drug substance, which is the main ingredient, and Aspen will conduct the fill-finish process, or the last stage in production, the officials said.
“Johnson & Johnson is creating a global manufacturing network that will include ten manufacturers to fulfil orders from all its customers for Covid-19 vaccines,” J&J said in a statement, adding that it has worked with Aspen on the vaccine since November.
“We welcome the World Bank Group’s announcement that it also will support Aspen’s operations, including production capacity for Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing.”
The funding comes from the International Finance Corp, which is affiliated with the World Bank, and three development agencies: the US International Development Finance Corp, or DFC, Germany’s DEG and France’s Proparco SA. The US portion is 100 million euros and comes from the DFC’s core budget.
IFC said in a statement that the financing will help Aspen “refinance existing debt and strengthen the company’s balance sheet, supporting Aspen’s operations including production of vaccines, and other therapies in African and emerging markets.”