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Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccines destined for South Africa remain suspended following a ruling in the US that ingredients for the country’s cans may have been contaminated during production at a Baltimore facility.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday that some lots of the J&J version were not suitable for use while others are still being tested. Two lots were approved although it is not clear where they go or how many of them will be covered.
South Africa relies heavily on the J&J vaccine to vaccinate two-thirds of its 60 million residents this year after ordering more than 31 million single-dose syringes. Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd., Africa’s largest pharmaceutical company, has an order to fill and pack the cans at a factory in the coastal town of Gqebherha, which until recently was known as Port Elizabeth.
“The vaccines that are awaiting distribution from the Gqebherha plant must be further tested by the South African health products regulator,” the country’s health ministry said in a statement. That will decide “whether they are suitable for use in South Africa. There is now a real possibility that it will not, but that will have to be decided by the regulator, ”it said.
Read more: Legacy of Inequality Pursues South Africa’s Vaccine Adoption Plan
To compensate for this, 300,000 J&J cans will be released for shipment to South Africa “as a matter of urgency,” the ministry said. In addition, the drug manufacturer has signed a contract for the delivery of the vaccine to the country and must therefore fulfill it on time.
The news still marks a major setback in vaccine adoption in South Africa – just as a third wave of infections is gaining traction. The government was heavily criticized for delays in ordering cans, and vaccinations to the general public did not begin until mid-May.
Those over 60 receive doses of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE versions, although to date only 1.2 million people plus 480,000 health workers have been cared for.
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