Aspen Pharmacare Holdings said it would take two weeks to replace South African Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines that need to be discarded as a result of contamination at a U.S. plant — but the national rollout target could still be met.
Africa’s biggest drugmaker has a deal to package and fill J&J vials at a factory in the coastal town of Gqeberha, until recently known as Port Elizabeth.
A batch of about 2 million doses there has been suspended for weeks while the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reviewed whether they are fit for use, and it’s now clear they will need to be thrown out.
“Between the Aspen production that will come out this week and the J&J stock they will fly in, we will more than cover the stock lost in the next couple of weeks,” Aspen Chief Executive Officer Stephen Saad said in an interview on Monday. “The loss is very sad and a waste, but South Africa is not going to be prejudiced.”
South Africa is heavily reliant on the J&J vaccine to meet a target of inoculating two-thirds of its 60 million population this year, having ordered more than 31 million of the single-dose shot.
The news of potential setbacks to the vaccination plan comes as South Africa suffers a third wave of coronavirus infections, with the economic hub of Gauteng the clear epicenter.
The government has been heavily criticized for delays in ordering doses, and inoculations to the general public only began in mid-May.