Johnson & Johnson Strikes Big Vaccine Deal With African Union – But Deliveries Only Begin In 3rd Quarter 2021

CAPE TOWN – Johnson & Johnson (J&J) will deliver its COVID-19 vaccine to Africa from October after reaching an agreement with the African Union to supply the continent with up to 400 million doses over the next two years. 

However, Africa may still be struggling to obtain vaccine supplies for some months following last week’s decision by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to scale back its delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the WHO co-sponsored COVAX global vaccine facility – in order to address domestic demand as COVID-19 cases soar in India. 

To date, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been the backbone of the COVAX facility’s ambitious roll-out of vaccines to dozens of low- and middle-income countries. But the SII suspension would interrupt the planned March and April delivery of some 90 more vaccine doses at a time when some countries have already used up their allotted supplies, and another 10 countries in Africa and 20 worldwide have yet to receive any vaccines at all.    

J&J CEO Alex Gorsky

 J&J CEO Alex Gorsky announced the deal with the AU’s “African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT)” on Monday saying that his company has been “committed to equitable, global access to new COVID-19 vaccines” from the start of the pandemic.

“Our support for the COVAX Facility, combined with supplementary agreements with countries and regions, will help accelerate global progress toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

AVAT can order up to 220-million doses this year and an additional 180 million doses in 2022, according to the company.

Single Dose and Efficacious Against Variant

The J&J vaccine only requires one dose, it can be stored in a normal fridge for up to three months.  It has been tested in diverse populations and it has shown be able prevent death and severe illness – even in the case of the more infectious B.1351 (501Y.V2) variant first identified in South Africa. 

J&J has also committed to providing its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis for emergency use during the pandemic.

The vaccine was granted Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization (WHO) on 12 March, Conditional Marketing Authorization from the European Commission on 11 March and Emergency Use Authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration on 27 February. The single-shot COVID-19 vaccine has also been granted Interim Order authorization in Canada on 5 March.

It is also being used to vaccinate South African health workers as part of an implementation study. The country abandoned its original plan to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small trial showed that vaccine was ineffective in preventing mild and moderate infection by the B.1351 variant.

South Africa announced on Sunday that it expected 2.8 million J&J doses at the end of April to expand its vaccination programme. It also announced that it had secured an order of 30 million doses from the company but did not divulge the expected delivery date of the bulk of its order.

J&J Tested on Diverse Populations

So far, the J&J vaccine is in fact the only vaccine to have been rigorously clinically trialled on the B.1.1351 variant that first emerged in South Africa and has now reportedly spread to some 16 other countries. 

Those states reporting on the presence of the B.1.351 variant, namely Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Comoros, DR Congo, Eswatini, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“The availability of the vaccine candidate is subject to its successful approval or authorization by the national regulatory authorities of AU member states,” according to the company’s press statement.

The J&J vaccine has been tested on almost 44 000 people from four continents, including 7,000 South Africans, most of whom were exposed to the B.1351 variant. The vaccine showed 57% protection against moderate disease, 85% protection against severe disease and 100% protection against death.

Globally, the J&J vaccine demonstrated a 67 percent reduction in symptomatic COVID-19 disease in participants who received the vaccine in comparison to participants given the placebo. 

In addition, South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare will assist to manufacture the vaccine and support shipments to the AU member states, according to the company.

Gavi in Talks With Indian Government Over SII supplies

Meanwhile, lat last week the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, announced that COVID-19 vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India to lower-income economies that as part of COVAX “will face delays during March and April as the government of India battles a new wave of COVID-19 infections”.

“COVAX and the Government of India remain in discussions to ensure some supplies are completed during March and April,” added Gavi

According to the agreement between Gavi and SII, the company is contracted to provide COVAX with the SII-licensed and manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine to 64 lower-income economies participating in the Gavi COVAX AMC, alongside its commitments to the Government of India.


Image Credits: NBC News.

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