Thirty million Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) were destroyed at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in South Africa in June, weeks before a deadly third wave hit the country.
The destroyed doses, manufactured at Aspen’s Gqeberha facility, were compromised due to a contaminated drug substance supplied by J&J’s US partner Emergent Biosolutions, Aspen said.
The doses were from the same factory that ruined 15m doses in March, a WHO conference heard on September 16.
“I had a meeting with one of the manufacturers that is ‘fill and finishing’ in South Africa who told me that 30m doses of the Johnson & Johnson had to be destroyed a few months ago,” said Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun Alakija, who co-chairs the African Union’s Covid-19 Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance.
“They are not the same as the ones that were destroyed in the US, these were the ones that had actually already been completed, filled and finished in South Africa.
“They were destroyed because they were part of factories 5 and 6 that had problems and the factories are back running in the US, but unfortunately it has affected our backlog,” she told journalists at a WHO press conference on 16 September.
Johnson & Johnson confirmed in an emailed statement that a “contaminated” batch of vaccines from their US manufacturing partner Emergent had been destroyed in June, but did not specify the exact number.
“Specific COVID-19 vaccine manufactured at [Aspen’s] Gqeberha production site and designated for the South African market have to be destroyed due to the Good Manufacturing Practice risk of isolated material in the drug substance supplied to Aspen by Johnson & Johnson from their contract manufacturing partner in the USA, Emergent,” the statement said.
“This… has the potential to negatively impact the vaccine rollout across South Africa and Africa,” it added.
The US pharma giant promised to supply uncontaminated vaccines “within a week,” and deliver additional vaccines to keep the country’s immunisation drive on track.
“Over the next few weeks, Johnson & Johnson will be delivering substantial quantities of compliant finished vaccines to South Africa to replace the lost stock thereby ensuring the momentum in the South African vaccine initiative is maintained.”