A $200M injection from the U.S. will allow Aspen to produce more Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines for Africa

With just 1.5% of its 1.3 billion people fully vaccinated, Africa is the least protected continent in the world against the coronavirus.

But the U.S. is stepping up to help address the shortfall. With a $200 million investment in an Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing facility in South Africa, the U.S. is trying to pave the way for increased production of COVID-19 vaccines.

The investment will allow the plant to expand its capacity beyond its current rate of 300 million doses per year, according to News24.

Aspen, the largest pharmaceutical company in Africa, produces the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the port city of Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. J&J and Aspen revealed their vaccine partnership in November of last year. 

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Also this week, Pfizer and BioNTech revealed a manufacturing agreement with the Biovac Institute of South Africa. From its plant in Cape Town, Biovac will perform fill-finish and distribution of the vaccine after receiving shipments of bulk substances from Europe. The facility will provide more than 100 million doses annually, with production kicking off by the start of next year.   

As for J&J's vaccine, in March, the company unveiled an agreement to provide the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) 220 doses of its single-shot vaccine, with an option of up to 400 million doses overall. Supplies were due to start in the third quarter of this year. 

In June, however, Aspen said that it discarded bulk substance from J&J that was awaiting manufacture. The substance was part of a batch that was potentially contaminated at an Emergent plant in Baltimore.

RELATED: With Biovac agreement, Pfizer and BioNTech extend their COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing network to Africa

J&J has said it is providing its vaccine on a “not-for-profit basis” during the pandemic. In December, the company pledged 500 million doses to the COVAX worldwide relief initiative.

The African Union was counting on vaccines from COVAX, but the effort has been hindered by export restrictions on its primary supplier, the Serum Institute of India as the country battles its own COVID-19 surge.

According to the World Health Organization, of the 74.6 million vaccine doses received by Africa, 47 million have arrived from other countries bilaterally, 26.6 million have come through COVAX and 1 million have been procured from the AVAT.