Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa, which is Africa’s first COVID vaccine plant, will shut down due to a drop in demand for the vaccine.
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The first facility in Africa to create COVID-19 “vaccines” is about to close. Despite assurances from COVAX and others that there would be sufficient demand for Africa’s only COVID vaccine, the continent’s largest pharmaceutical company has received no orders.
Late last year, Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa inked a licensing arrangement to bottle and distribute Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 “vaccine,” but six months later, demand for the shot has dropped significantly, putting the plans in jeopardy.
Early in the pandemic, Africa was left out of the rush for vaccines, and the license agreement was regarded as a lifeline for the continent by many, including the World Health Organization (WHO).
The refusal to acquire the “vaccine,” according to the Financial Times, demonstrates waning demand in South Africa and is part of a broader trend across the continent. Only 5% of Africa’s population has had a booster injection, and only about a third of the continent’s 60 million people have received two vaccines.
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COVID-19 deaths have been shown to be lower in Africa than in other continents. According to a WHO research, Africa accounted for only 8.3 percent of the global pandemic’s 14.9 million additional deaths. Some analysts feel that Africa’s low death rate is due to the continent’s youth, with a median age of 19.7 compared to 42.5 in Europe.
Despite this, Africa has the lowest vaccination rate of any continent, with only 17.4 percent of its population receiving both vaccines. As the WHO’s self-imposed June 22, 2022, deadline for countries to attain 70% double vaccination against COVID-19 approaches, just two African countries (Seychelles and Mauritius) have achieved that goal.
Dr. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that the World Health Organization’s 70 percent target set in June was “clearly not achievable for most countries in Africa.” He also stated that he hopes to meet the WHO vaccine goal by the end of 2022.
Despite this, with a less deadly Omicron variant and vaccination hesitancy due to roughly two-thirds of Africans having already been infected with COVID, many public health officials privately believe the WHO aim is unattainable. The Financial Times reported on Africa’s reaction to the WHO directive, saying:
“A former high-ranking AU official in the body’s jab rollout admitted the goal of reaching 70 percent vaccination coverage was no longer relevant for most African countries but had not been scrapped because no one wants to be the first to say we’ve dropped it.”
Indeed, “people are tired of it,” with an Omicron peak that went “largely unnoticed” in the daily lives of Africans, and had minimal impact on severe sickness or mortality rates. Nonetheless, despite dwindling demand for COVID-19 vaccines across Africa, Nkengasong underlined that local vaccine production cannot be neglected. He stated:
“Every region of the world, including Africa, should be able to produce vaccines in a timely fashion so that we don’t get into these squabbles of accusing the north of depriving the south of vaccines.”
When Aspen and J&J reached an agreement, the WHO dubbed it a “transformative moment” in the fight to eliminate severe discrepancies in COVID vaccine access.
With no orders for its jab (named Aspenovax), Aspen‘s senior director, Stavros Nicolaou, stated the business is considering using its brand new facilities to create anesthetics. As the deal got underway, Nicolaou commented on the early buzz:
“There were a lot of calls both from the West and from Africa that the best way to try and solve the problem was to establish our own local vaccine production capacity. What happened next “sends an incredibly bad message.”
Indeed, as the world became “awash with [COVID] doses that few people are keen to take,” COVAX and its backer—the global vaccine alliance GAVI, which is backed by Bill Gates—refused to buy COVID vaccine doses from Aspen.
Regardless of the reason(s), J&J and Aspen have been in talks for more than a year about a licensing agreement. “The world at large can’t say—we didn’t know there was going to be Aspen capacity,” Nicolaou said.
The World Bank and government agencies from the United States, France, and Germany contributed $626 million to Aspen’s effort in June, stating that the facility was needed to secure vaccine production on the African continent.
Meanwhile, because both Pfizer and Moderna plan to manufacture COVID vaccines on the continent, Nicolaou believes that if GAVI and COVAX do not show interest soon, the “need for regional manufacture will remain just a political nicety which has no substance.”