We Will Learn From Plight of Aspen's COVID Vaccine Plant: WHO

By Reuters Staff

May 13, 2022

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A senior World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday it was unfortunate that South African firm Aspen's COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing capacity was at risk because of a lack of orders but that lessons would be learnt.

Aspen completed a deal in March to package, sell and distribute Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine in what was considered a game-changing moment for an under-vaccinated continent frustrated by sluggish Western handouts.

But earlier this month it said it had not received a single order and that it could switch about half of its COVID-19 vaccine production capacity onto other products within weeks if demand doesn't pick up.

Dr Abdou Salam Gueye, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, told a news conference the Aspen project was not a failure because it had shown that good COVID-19 vaccines could be produced in South Africa.

He said the lack of orders was because global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX, the main buyer of vaccines for Africa, had enough supplies.

"On the final side (the orders), it may be a failure, but we will learn from it for the next step," Gueye said. "Also if we ... reinstall it in the future because of need, I'm sure that it's going to take less time."

Addressing a separate briefing, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said global health security would be undermined if companies like Aspen were not supported.

"We have all lived through this challenge of inequity in vaccines, access and distribution, we don't want to live through that again," Nkengasong said.