Brown medicine glass bottles on production line.
Medicine glass bottles on production line. (Image: Getty)
  • Biovac can produce as much as 30 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine a year, the company says.
  • The company, part-owned by government, said it is talking to global pharmaceutical companies to manufacture their vaccines in the country.
  • But the emergence of the second, more lethal variant has added complications. 
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As many as 30 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine can be produced by Cape Town-based pharmaceutical company, Biovac, its CEO Dr Morena Makhoana says. Biovac is part-owned by government.

Makhoana told Business Insider South Africa that Biovac is still engaged in talks with global pharmaceutical companies regarding manufacturing and producing Covid-19 vaccines at its facilities. He did not want to disclose which companies are involved.

“Progress is being made to ensure that a sustainable and equitable manufacturing arrangement is met. At this time, we are unable to disclose the nature of these discussions. In the meantime, we are lending support to our governments’ efforts in procuring the necessary vaccines from licensed manufacturers,” Makhoana said.

Biovac is contracted to store and distribute Covid vaccines during the first phase of government's vaccination drive, which will involve health workers only.

This has now been put on hold after government decided not to administer the 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being. The vaccine was found to offer only limited protection against mild and moderate symptoms arising from the 501Y.V2 variant that was discovered first in South Africa.

READ | SA pivots, and 80,000 doses of J&J vaccine due next week – as WHO says to use AstraZeneca

Makhoana said Biovac is now awaiting feedback from the health department on a way forward in distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize earlier this week said the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is due to expire in April, would not be dumped but may be exchanged or sold to other countries. 

READ | SA may still swap - or sell - its one million AstraZeneca vaccines, Mkhize says

In the interim, the department is consulting with scientists on whether the AstraZeneca shots can be used before its expiry date comes in 2 months. The vaccines are considered to have a six months life span due to limited data and trials.

The emergence of the second, more lethal variant has also complicated things for the Biovac, which was just about to finalise its manufacturing discussions with potential partners, Makhoana said.

“We are therefore currently analysing all the data to see if the vaccine we are intending to manufacture may hit the mark. Unfortunately, the virus may continue to mutate, and this will force all manufactures to adapt strategies,” he said.  

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