SA's Aspen Covid-19 vaccine plant risks closure after no orders - executive

accreditation
President Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy David Mabuza and former health minister Zweli Mkhize visiting the Aspen plant in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Lulama Zenzile
President Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy David Mabuza and former health minister Zweli Mkhize visiting the Aspen plant in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Lulama Zenzile
  • The Aspen Covid-19 vaccination plant has not received a single order for its Aspenovax vaccine.
  • Aspen senior director Stavros Nicolaou says there will be little rationale to remain open if they do not get vaccine orders.
  • The Covid-19 vaccine plant is in Ggqeberha, the Eastern Cape.

Africa's first Covid-19 vaccination plant, touted last year as a trailblazer for an under-vaccinated continent frustrated by sluggish Western handouts, risks shutting down after receiving not a single order, a company executive said on Saturday.

Aspen Pharmacare negotiated a licencing deal in November to package and sell Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine and distribute it across Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) called the deal a "transformative moment" in the drive towards levelling stark inequalities in access to Covid-19 vaccines.

With only a sixth of adults in Africa fully vaccinated, according to the latest WHO figures from the end of March, Aspen's agreement to sell an Aspen-branded Covid-19 vaccine, Aspenovax, throughout Africa seemed like a sure bet.

South Africa, which has vaccinated 30% of its population, also looks set to experience a fifth wave of infections.

"Yet, there've been no orders received for Aspenovax," Aspen senior director Stavros Nicolaou told Reuters over the phone.

"If we don't get any kind of vaccine orders, then clearly there'll be very little rationale for retaining the lines that we're currently using for production," he said of the Covid-19 vaccine plant in Gqeberha, the  Eastern Cape.

ALSO READ | KZN health MEC concerned about the increase in Covid-19 cases in province

African countries have struggled with logistical issues, lack of skilled staff, cold chains and other problems surrounding the distribution of vaccines. Another issue is that, after initially leaving Africa out in the cold, donor countries have since paid up and the continent is now well supplied.

Nicolaou said in the long run, the aim was to shift to producing other vaccines but the firm had banked on these initial volumes to buy it time to establish the operation.

"If you don't breach this short-term gap with orders, you can't sustain these capacities on the continent," he added, at a time when health officials want to vaccinate three-quarters of the continent's population.

The African Union's goal is to produce 60% of all vaccines administered in Africa locally by 2040, up from the current 1%, and several such plants are being set up.

"If Aspen doesn't get production, what chance is there for any of the other initiatives?" Nicolaou said.


Never miss a story. Choose from our range of newsletters to get the news you want delivered straight to your inbox.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Authorities should bring in the army already
8% - 435 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
58% - 2970 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
31% - 1606 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
3% - 152 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.60
-0.1%
Rand - Pound
20.05
-0.1%
Rand - Euro
16.95
-0.1%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.55
-0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.2%
Gold
1,791.37
-0.2%
Silver
20.45
-0.4%
Palladium
2,220.00
-0.1%
Platinum
931.00
-0.7%
Brent Crude
96.31
-0.4%
Top 40
63,771
0.0%
All Share
70,266
0.0%
Resource 10
65,045
0.0%
Industrial 25
85,829
0.0%
Financial 15
15,741
0.0%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE