Aspen says it needs regional support to keep Covid vaccine line open
The drugmaker says it has been has been let down by the lack of interest in its locally made version of Johnson & Johnson’s dose
Aspen Pharmacare Holdings needs clear commitments within weeks from African governments for orders of its Covid-19 vaccine or it will recommit that production line to more in-demand anaesthetics.
The continent’s biggest drugmaker has been let down by the lack of interest in the shots — a locally made version of Johnson & Johnson’s dose, according to head of strategic trade Stavros Nicolaou.
“We had counted on, and were assured, that the regional manufacturing platform was critical and would be supported,” Nicolaou said by phone. “We had banked on these initial volumes to give us the time to enable us to pivot to other vaccines.”
Aspen is only making a “trickle” of coronavirus vaccines off the line, he said, and has not had any orders for its own-branded shot earmarked for sale directly in Africa.
The situation is a setback for Africa’s plans to catch up with more developed countries’ Covid-19 vaccination rates, and prepare for the possibility of future pandemics. President Cyril Ramaphosa had been part of a movement that criticised rich nations for hoarding vaccines and tried to force pharmaceutical companies to share inoculation recipes, though take up remains relatively low.
Aspen understands that while African countries now have more shots than they have been able to administer, but keeping the line open for its Aspenovax vaccine may not make economic sense, Nicolaou said.
Aspen shares had fallen 1.3% by 9.22am in Johannesburg, extending its decline so far in 2022 to 27%.
Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director John Nkengasong has said talks about how to raise demand for Covid-19 vaccines are under way and has appealed to African countries to place orders with local manufacturers.
“The reality is that if Aspen cannot obtain production, what hope is there for others?” Nicolaou said.
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