WHO, Gavi not planning vaccine buys from SA's Aspen

STORY: Africa's efforts to develop its own vaccine production capacity have been dealt a blow.

The World Health Organization and its COVID-19 vaccine partner Gavi say they have no immediate plans to buy shots made by Aspen Pharmacare.

The South African company completed a deal in March to package, sell and distribute Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.

That was lauded as a game-changing moment for a continent frustrated by sluggish Western handouts.

But expectations of high demand in Africa, where just a sixth of adults are fully vaccinated, have not materialized.

Aspen's CEO Stephen Saad last week warned it would be forced to repurpose about half of its vaccine production capacity if orders did not pick up.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control has called on organizations procuring doses for the continent to prioritize sourcing from African producers.

But the problem seems to be that the global vaccine sharing program COVAX which has been instrumental in Africa's pandemic response - doesn't currently need any more shots.

COVAX is backed by the WHO, the global vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

A spokesperson for Gavi said that, in the case of Aspen, they are not "currently in a position to buy large quantities of vaccines".

Kate O'Brien, the WHO's Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, said COVAX had already secured the 380 million vaccine doses required for the second and third quarters of this year.

The African Union's goal is to produce 60% of all routine vaccines - that's everything from COVID to measles - administered in Africa locally by 2040.

That's up from the current 1%.

Several plants are being set up and the WHO and EU are backing regional manufacturing initiatives.

But recently acute shortages of COVID-19 vaccines have given way to a glut of doses.

Aspen's Saad has warned the current lack of demand calls into question the viability of local production,

thus endangering Africa's future vaccine security.