'An important milestone': J&J on striking deal with Aspen to remove vaccine inequity in Africa

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Aspen’s flagship manufacturing site in Gqebhera, Eastern Cape.
Aspen’s flagship manufacturing site in Gqebhera, Eastern Cape.
  • Aspen and J&J say they hope their new deal will remove vaccine inequality in Africa.
  • Aspen struck a deal with J&J to sell its own branded Covid-19 vaccine on the continent. 
  • The deal comes just a few days after the emergence of the Omicron variant. 

Two of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies, Aspen and Johnson & Johnson (J&J), hope a joint agreement will remove vaccine inequity on the African continent.

Aspen announced it has struck a deal with J&J to sell its own branded Covid-19 vaccine on the continent. 

J&J is granting Aspen an intellectual property licence to produce its vaccine under the new brand name, "Aspenovax".

The term of the grant of rights and supply of drug substance, subject to the signing of the definitive agreement, would be until December 2026.

It includes new versions of the J&J vaccine, and boosters or jabs created for new variants of the virus.

READ MORE | Omicron: New Covid-19 variant sparks fresh 'vaccine apartheid' outrage

J&J's Global Public Health's Adrian Thomas said the partnership comes at a time where Africa's vaccination rates are low. 

"This licence will ensure we address vaccine inequity and it comes at a crucial moment, where African countries' vaccine rates are far lower compared to high income countries, which shows that we have to do something differently.

"This is an important milestone and, by working together, we can support this vaccination effort to ensure it reaches the people in most need," he said. 

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. 

Stephen Saad, Aspen Group chief executive, said 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 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."

READ ALSO | Aspen strikes deal with J&J to launch own vaccine, called 'Aspenovax'

The deal comes after the discovery of a new variant, Omicron, which has been classed as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation.

The variant is responsible for rising rates of infections in Gauteng over the last two weeks.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director-general of the World Trade Organisation, said the emergence of Omicron has highlighted the need to ramp up vaccination efforts in African countries. 

"It's another sign that we need to ramp up our work to ensure vaccine equity.

"Only about 3% of the people in low income countries and 7% in Africa are vaccinated, compared to two-thirds in wealthy countries.

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