UKRAINE - 2021/02/05: In this photo illustration a
  • South African pharmaceutical company Aspen expects to start earning income from delivering the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine before June. 
  • The vaccine will be packaged at its Gqeberha factory.
  • It will arrive in SA in frozen form, then thawed and filled in vials locally.
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Aspen is on track to deliver the first batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from its Gqeberha (until recently Port Elizabeth) factory before June this year, the company confirmed this week.

“There have been no setbacks,” Aspen’s deputy CEO, Gus Attridge told Business Insider South Africa, and the technical preparations for the start of manufacturing proceeding according to plan.

The factory will receive the coronavirus vaccine in frozen format from Janssen Pharmaceutica, the Belgium-based division of Johnson & Johnson which developed it.

It will then be thawed, vials will be filled with the liquid vaccine, and then closed – through an entirely mechanised process, to ensure sterile conditions and no human contact.

The finished vials will be packaged in special containers, at the correct temperature, before being returned to Johnson & Johnson, which will export it across the world. It is expected – although not yet confirmed – that the three million doses of J&J vaccine that South Africa anticipates between April and June may come from the locally finished stock.

Attridge says Aspen has been working with representatives from Jansen since last November and teams from the company have been in South Africa to monitor its progress.

“We are really very pleased that everything is on track.”

Aspen has invested more than R3 billion in the Eastern Cape facility in recent years to ensure a high-tech, sterilise environment. Aspen expects to earn income from the vaccine production in its current financial year, which ends in June.

As many as 300 million doses of the vaccine could be packaged in South Africa.

More than 110,000 South African medical workers have already been vaccinated with the jab, as part of a “implementation study”, which is similar to the final phase of a vaccine trial and will test the real-life efficacy of the vaccination in South Africa.

Recent data, released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, showed the vaccine has a 64% efficacy rate against the more contagious South African variant.

Vaccine efficacy against severe Covid cases was 73%, 14 days after vaccination, increasing to 82% at least 28 days after vaccination.

There were no deaths due to Covid among South African trial participants who received the J&J vaccine. More than 5,000 South Africans took part in the J&J vaccine trial in recent months, of which around half received a placebo vaccine.

READ | J&J vaccine works better against SA variant than previously reported

The major benefit of the vaccine is that it is only a single dose. Also – unlike other vaccines that require ultra-low temperatures - it can be stored in a domestic-type fridge for a month.

Aspen’s share price rose more than 1.6% on Friday after the release of its results on Thursday evening.

Its half-year revenue grew 17% to almost R19 billion, with its headline profit up 16%. Its debt burden declined to R27.7 billion by the end of December, from R53.5 billion - which was more than its market value – in 2019. The company has been selling some of its businesses to trim its debt burden.

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