CORRECTION: We had originally wrote that the Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the Aspen Gqeberha facility were manufactured there, which is not accurate. We have corrected this error and the story follows below.
The Sisonke Protocol vaccine rollout in South Africa has been slow to say the least. A significant stumbling block has been the procurement of vaccines, with far richer countries like the United States snapping up and stockpiling vaccines while other nations have been forced to wait for any leftovers.
In order to address this, Aspen announced a vaccine production facility in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) but, earlier this week, batches of Johnson & Johnson vaccine
manufactured housed at the site had to be destroyed due to an isolated material being found. “The batches manufactured had been retained in storage awaiting the outcome of the US FDA assessment,” Aspen noted in a statement.
South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) therefore took the decision not to release said batches of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but luckily it has identified and secured a batch 300 000 vaccines that are currently being shipped to SA.
This batch is crucial as it is earmarked for teachers in the country, most of whom have been struggling to get through the curriculum with the looming spectre of potential school closures and constant risk of COVID-19 infection. Much like the doctors and nurses of SA, teachers are also finding themselves on the frontline fighting this virus.
“Within days, Johnson & Johnson will provide 300 000 doses of the vaccine for South African teachers. Over the next few weeks, Johnson & Johnson will be delivering substantial quantities of compliant, finished vaccines to South Africa to replace the lost stock, thereby ensuring the momentum in the South African vaccine initiative is maintained,” Aspen confirmed.
“These Johnson & Johnson vaccines released by Aspen will support the vaccination programmes in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa,” it added.
With only 1 777 288 vaccines administered to date, the National Department of Health needs to ramp up its efforts if the country is indeed going to reach population immunity within the advised timelines.