Late in 2021, Johnson & Johnson’s COVID production partner Aspen Pharmacare welcomed the huge licensing contract to manufacture and sell J&J’s single-dose injection in Africa. Five months later, and two months after Aspen began production, the project has run into an issue familiar to all pandemic vaccine makers.
They have not found a single buyer because vaccine distribution in Africa is a lumbering process, leaving many health agencies with a backlog of supplies. According to Bloomberg, Aspen has not got a single order for their branded version of the J&J injection due to a lack of demand — even in Africa, where only 15.9% of its 1.2 billion people have completed a coronavirus vaccine course.
Stavros Nicolaou, Aspen’s head of strategic trade, said that many people in the West and Africa have said that the best approach to fix the situation is to build our local vaccine production capability.
Bloomberg has further quoted that in the fall of 2020, Aspen had signed a partnership agreement with J&J to assist in the development of their coronavirus vaccine candidate. Aspen has started training roughly 500 workers to operate on the COVID vaccination line at its sterile facility in Gqeberha, South Africa, in early 2021.
In March, Aspen came into a lucrative arrangement for its branded version of the shot, Aspenovax. The agreement also granted business pricing and distribution control across Africa.
Nicolaou told Fierce Pharma in late 2021 that the purchase had the potential to be a ‘game-changer’ on two fronts. According to the CEO, an Aspen-branded shot would de facto offer the continent its first COVID-19 vaccine. Second, he believes the agreement will help Africa create local vaccine manufacturing capability. However, commercial production has not begun and is an ominous sign for African countries and vaccine manufacturers.
President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking at a Pandemic global summit organized by the White House, blamed international agencies for failure to buy vaccines from a pioneering African manufacturer.
Studies have found that 2/3rd of Africans caught a covid infection before the Omicron wave, yet death rates in the continent are the lowest worldwide. Vaccine wait times have also driven down demand, and public health officials are on the verge of abandoning large-scale vaccination drives to focus instead on the most vulnerable groups.