South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa

Uproar as all J&J vaccines made in SA are shipped to Europe

ABOUT 32 million Johnson and Johnson (J&J) doses that were bottled and packaged at Aspen Pharmacare in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape, have reportedly been shipped to European countries, despite the country awaiting most of the 31 million vaccine doses it ordered from J&J.

According to a New York Times article  as well as export records reviewed by the publication, many Western countries have kept domestically manufactured doses for themselves.

However due to an unusual stipulation in the contract the government signed this year with J&J, South Africa was required to waive its right to impose export restrictions on vaccine doses.

SA Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said the government was not happy with the requirements in the contract but lacked the leverage to refuse them.

“The government was not given any choice – sign the contract or no vaccine,” said Maja.

Health and social security expert Professor Alex van den Heever said the revelations were shocking and unacceptable.

“Aspen has been saying one thing and doing another. They appear to renege on their agreements with SA and favour Europe. A really sad reflection on the senior management of Aspen,” he said.

Fatima Hassan, the founder of Health Justice Initiative, a public health initiative focusing on treatment and vaccines for Covid-19 and HIV, said the disproportionate amount of power that J&J had exercised was concerning.

“This is harming our efforts to get speedy supplies into the system. It is in the public interest to know what other rights have been waived, for whose benefit, and why we are being drip fed,” said Hassan.

Aspen chief executive Stephen Saad blamed the lack of South African doses on the Emergent plant.

He said Aspen could not control where its doses were sent, but “I would have liked to see it all go to Africa”.

Aspen is finishing doses that were made at a plant in the Netherlands, with 40% of them going to Europe and the remaining 60% to Africa through the end of September.

Under the contract, SA agreed to pay $10 (about R150) a dose for the 11 million shots, the same price the US paid and slightly more than the $8.50 that the European Commission agreed to pay. – IOL

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