South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare will halt production of Covid-19 vaccines from the end of this month due to a lack of orders, a senior executive said, further undermining Africa’s already meager capacity to produce doses.
Aspen currently manufactures vaccines for Johnson & Johnson. In March, it struck a deal to produce, price and sell its own-brand version of the film for African markets.
The deal was seen as a root cause for a continent disillusioned by the West’s sluggish inroads. But while only a fifth of adults in Africa are fully vaccinated, according to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the demand for vaccinations has not materialized.
Aspen has received no orders for the Aspenovax vaccine and has received no orders from Johnson & Johnson since August.
J&J did not respond to an email seeking comment.
“The thing is, we don’t know if we will get further orders from J&J. But we are finishing the production of what we have,” Stavros Nikolaou, head of the Aspen Group, told Reuters.
Without new orders, Aspen will have to shut down all of its annual production capacity of 450 million doses, he said.
Nicolau said Aspen may get some guidance from J&J by September on whether new orders are planned. But he warned that this may not be enough.
Most of the company’s Covid-19 production lines were intended to produce Aspenovax for Africa. Its initial plans were to increase annual capacity to 700 million doses by February and further expand to one billion doses to meet expected demand.
However, Aspenovax’s existing production lines are now idle. Without orders for Aspenovax, Aspen would have been forced to retool production lines to produce the anesthetic, Nicolau said.
“Then Africa loses its Covid vaccine potential, the only one that really exists on the continent,” he said. “Of course, we cannot continue the vacant lines indefinitely. And we should get an order soon.”