In march this year, the African Union started an exercise of shipping its first batch of 6 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson one-dose Covid-19 vaccine next week. This first shipment of doses was made available to countries for purchase through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust.
Following the breakdown in vaccine supplies from COVAX Facility in March, many African countries eagerly awaited these shipments with over 29 countries struggling with a severe third wave of the pandemic at the time and many hospitals and causing oxygen and bed shortages in intensive care units.
It’s interesting to note that the Johnson and Johnson will be manufactured by the South African company Aspen Pharmacare. AU decided to make the deal with J&J because they were the only major supplier of vaccines, at the time of the agreement, which had signed a deal to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines on the African continent.
Following AUs agreement, South Africa’s drugs regulator SAHPRA in April approved an implementation study of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine but was still reviewing its full market application.
The implementation study targeted inoculating between 350,000 to 500,000 health care workers. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said J&J has not yet submitted an application for emergency use authorisation of its vaccine,
In the latest developments. An arrangement whereby Johnson & Johnson (J&J) ships COVID-19 vaccine doses to Europe that had been packaged in South Africa has been suspended, African Union (AU) envoy Strive Masiyiwa said on Thursday.
The World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month he was “stunned” by the arrangement, since Europe has very high vaccination rates while even the most vulnerable people in many African countries had not been vaccinated.
At the time the European Commission described it as a temporary agreement, while J&J had no comment on the matter.
In a news briefing earlier today African Union (AU) envoy Strive Masiyiwa said shots packaged and sent to Europe by J&J’s South African partner, Aspen, would be returned.
According to Masiyiwa J&J had shipped less than 20 million doses to Europe and the halting of the shipments was partly due to interventions by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Under its contract with J&J, Aspen imports the drug substance for the vaccine from the U.S. pharmaceutical company and packages it at its plant in South Africa.
J&J has a bilateral deal with South Africa to supply 31 million vaccine doses and a separate contract with the AU for 220 million doses with an option for a further 180 million.
Separately, U.S. President Joe Biden announced last month that his government will donate 500 million Pfizer doses to low- and lower-middle-income countries, but it’s unclear what percentage of those doses will be allocated to the African continent. And these doses aren’t all expected to arrive this year, according to Masiyiwa.
Africa as a continent has received 82.7 million vaccine doses of which countries have administered 61.3 million doses, according to Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention. With this, only about 1.5% of the population on the continent is fully vaccinated.
Masiyiwa added that despite the growing concern on vaccines, even with these new shipments of vaccine doses, there is no possible way countries will vaccinate the estimated 780 million people needed to reach herd immunity. Looking at available doses to the African Union, he said, the best hope is that this can be achieved by August or September of 2022.
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