JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare will supply the first batch of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to the country from July 26, the drugmaker said on Monday.
It will be the first set of vaccines to be manufactured in the country from active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) - substances used to make the final drug product - sourced from Europe, Aspen said.
South Africa's vaccination drive suffered a major setback in April after U.S. Federal Drug Administration halted production of J&J vaccines at a plant in Baltimore run by Emergent Biosolutions Inc after it was found to be contaminated.
Aspen, which has been contracted by J&J to manufacture the vaccines in South Africa in a process called 'fill and finish', had been sourcing APIs from the Baltimore plant and was asked to destroy 2 million doses as part of the finding of the FDA.
The supplies will also be distributed to other African countries under the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team under which J&J has committed to supply 220 million doses of the single shot vaccine, Aspen said.
Africa's dependence on imports of COVID-19 vaccine has left it vulnerable to repeated waves of the coronavirus, raising demands for vaccine production facilities in the continent.
It has administered just 60 million vaccine doses in a population of 1.3 billion due to restrictions on shipments from vaccine producing nations.
South Africa's Biovac Institute struck a deal with Pfizer last week for a "fill and finish" arrangement to produce 100 million vaccines by 2022-23.
"Supply for Africa and South Africa is particularly rewarding, given the current global inequality in accessing vaccines," Stephen Saad, chief executive of Aspen said in a statement. "This represents a big step forward in ensuring that Africa can address its healthcare priorities."
(Reporting by Promit MukherjeeEditing by Tomasz Janowski)