SA's Biovac pushing on with Pfizer vaccine plans despite falling demand
Remember the race to obtain COVID-19 vaccines as the gravity of the sweeping pandemic hit home?
Since then there has been a drop in demand in various parts of the world, including South Africa.
At the beginning of May South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare warned that its COVID-19 vaccination plant in Gqeberha might have to shut down because of a lack of orders.
The drugmaker had closed a deal with Johnson & Johnson to produce and sell an Aspen-branded COVID-19 vaccine, Aspenovax, throughout Africa.
Similarly, the Cape Town-based Biovac Institute was going to produce Pfizer's BioNTech vaccine for distribution on the continent.
Bruce Whitfield finds out if Biovac is revising its plans in view of Aspen's experience.
CEO Dr Morena Makhoana notes that Biovac was always in the vaccine business and the arrangement with Pfizer was an "add-on".
He says the company is forging ahead with its plans despite a relatively low vaccine uptake on the continent.
The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine... with that we needed to expand a little bit of our facilities and enter into a tech transfer. We're about 70% through the technology transfer and the aim is still to start production towards the end of the year.Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO - Biovac
The question of demand is of concern to all of us in terms of what Aspen is saying... is it just African players? But it does seem that the demand is down.Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO - Biovac
While different regions across the world have different demand dynamics, Biovac has seen that adult immunisation is not at the level it would like in Africa and particularly South Africa, he says.
If you go to the northern hemisphere for example, the flu vaccine gets to be administered at a much higher rate. I think what we're seeing is like an indication that adult immunisation is not as mature and we'll probably need to make a lot more effort in raising that awareness generally on the continent, including South Africa.Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO - Biovac
One of the things that COVID-19 has shown us is that we probably need to study the behavioural side much more... A lot of people blame social media as well... maybe there's a mistrust also around government and how the information is transmitted...Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO - Biovac
Take France - their coverage was low but once the President said you can't go to a restaurant, then the uptake was high. Why? Because French people want to go to restaurants.Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO - Biovac
Biovac is working on various scenarios of what may become the norm he says.
The question is, are we going to get into a situation where vaccines are going to be administered to children just like other vaccines against TB, whooping cough, measles and others... Also, is it going to look a bit more like flu where it's more the elderly that are going to take up the vaccine..Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO - Biovac
It's this middle adult group who are the problem...Dr Morena Makhoana, CEO - Biovac
Listen to the interview with Dr Makhoana below (skip to 00:52):
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