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Aspen to release first supply of J&J vaccine for distribution across SA

To date more than 6.3 million people had been vaccinated in South Africa, with 240 000 daily jabs being administered.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Aspen Pharmacare is set to release its first batch of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine from its plant in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.

This comes after government’s plans to accelerate its inoculation programme following the recent violent protests and looting in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane last Friday revealed that the deadly unrest saw 47 500 vaccines being destroyed.

‘Significant landmark’

With Aspen producing 220 million doses of the J&J vaccine for the African continent, the manufacturer said the vaccines will be further distributed throughout South Africa

“In addition, vaccines from these batches will be made available through the African Union Vaccine Acquisition Task Team platform.

“This represents a significant landmark for South Africa and the African continent 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,” Apsen said in a statement.

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The manufacturer also indicated the vaccines, which are the first to be produced on the continent, will also be made available to Europe and other countries abroad. 

“Aspen is proud of the role we are playing in producing vaccines for distribution in South Africa, across Africa and the world. Our ability to produce these vaccines on behalf of Johnson & Johnson builds on our strategic vision of delivering high quality, affordable medicines that improve health outcomes for patients in our own country, continent and around the world,” Aspen chief executive Stephen Saad said. 

The J&J vaccine is said to be 85% effective in preventing severe illness from Covid. The vaccine also reduces symptomatic Covid disease by 67%.

Pfizer-BioNTech deal

Pfizer and BioNTech last Wednesday announced they had struck a deal with the Biovac Institute to manufacture over 100 million doses a year of their Covid vaccine for distribution within the African Union (AU).

Pfizer and BioNTech expect Biovac’s Cape Town facility to be incorporated into the vaccine supply chain by the end of this year.

READ MORE: Pfizer wants to increase required vaccine shots to three, to boost efficacy

Biovac will obtain drug substances from facilities in Europe, and the manufacturing of finished doses will commence in 2022.

President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed the signing of a letter of intent between Pfizer-BioNTech and Biovac, describing the collaboration as a breakthrough in the protection of African nations against the coronavirus.

Vaccine roll-out

During his nation address on Sunday night, Ramaphosa announced people over the age of 18 will be allowed to get their Covid jabs from 1 September, in addition to the age groups currently eligible for vaccine registrations and walk-ins.

Ramaphosa said an additional 31 million doses vaccines will be delivered within the next three months, while the sourcing of vaccines from other manufacturers is also under way.

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At this rate, deputy director-general of the department of health, Dr Nicholas Crisp said South Africa would be “able to have vaccinated, at least one dose, 35 million people before Christmas”.

To date more than 6.3 million people had been vaccinated in South Africa – which amounts to over 10% of the official population – with 240,000 daily jabs being administered.

Additional reporting by Thapelo Lekabe and Cheryl Kahla