Breakthrough: J&J will allow SA to produce vaccine under licence, Ramaphosa says

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The American pharmaceutical giant has also agreed that South Africa could manufacture its vaccine here under licence.
The American pharmaceutical giant has also agreed that South Africa could manufacture its vaccine here under licence.
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  • President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that a new historic agreement will boost the delivery of Johnson & Johnson vaccines to SA and the rest of the continent.
  • The American pharmaceutical giant has also agreed that South Africa could manufacture its vaccine here under licence.  
  • Currently, Aspen’s factory in Gqeberha only handles the final stage of the vaccination 

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday night that a new "historic agreement" will ramp up the delivery of Johnson & Johnson vaccines to South Africa and the rest of the continent – while the US pharmaceutical giant has also committed to allow South Africa, in time, to manufacture its vaccines.

Currently, Aspen’s factory in Gqeberha only handles the final stage of the vaccination, or the so-called "fill-finish process".

It imports the coronavirus vaccine in frozen format from Johnson & Johnson.

It is then thawed, vials are filled with the liquid vaccine, and then sealed.

Ramaphosa says the drug substance itself, which is like a concentrate in the production of the vaccines, should also be produced here in South Africa.

He says that Johnson & Johnson has agreed to adapt the current arrangement so that South Africa can produce the vaccine under licence rather than under contract, "resulting in our country and the continent having control over the vaccines".

"We are negotiating that, in time, the drug substance itself would be produced here in South Africa, so that we have a fully owned African vaccine manufactured on African soil in a number of countries on our continent."

Massive setback

South Africa’s current vulnerability in this regard was highlighted by the disastrous mismanagement of vaccine production at a US facility, which resulted in a massive setback to the local vaccine programme.

Workers at Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore accidentally mixed up some of the ingredients meant for the J&J vaccine concentrate. An investigation by the US authorities revealed that the factory did not seal off a preparation area for vaccine ingredients, and waste materials were also moved through the area.

Substances that came from the affected US plant were shipped to Aspen’s Gqeberha plant and used in manufacturing local vaccines.

In the end, Aspen had to destroy two million vaccines in South Africa that included substances from the US.

Historic agreement

Ramaphosa said that in the past few days, the African Union and the European Union have reached a "historic" agreement that will significantly improve the supply of vaccines. This appears to be a reference to a joint announcement by the World Bank as well as US, German and French government agencies that they will provide more than R10 billion in financing for production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in South Africa.

This will provide 500 million doses of the shots through 2022, Bloomberg reported.

"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.

"Through this agreement, Aspen will be delivering over 17 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to South Africa and other African countries over the next three months, commencing in late July," Ramaphosa said. This number will double monthly from October.

"These developments, together with our current agreements with manufacturers, means that South Africa should have a pipeline of vaccine supplies sufficient to meet our vaccination target."

Ramaphosa said that the single-dose J&J vaccine is well suited to Africa, and South Africa, where many people have to travel long distances to get jabbed.

When asked for details about when its local factory could start to produce the J&J vaccine under licence, a representative from Aspen said the company had no further information to share at this time.

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