US pharma firm commits 220 million Covid doses for Africa

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Johnson & Johnson announced Monday subsidiary Janssen has entered into an agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust to make available up to 220 million doses of its one-shot coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccine.

The company said delivery of the vaccine to the African Union’s (AU) 55 member-states will begin in the third quarter of this year, if the shot is granted approval by the various national regulatory authorities.

The vaccine has already received approval in the United States and other countries.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, Johnson & Johnson has recognized that no one is safe until everyone is safe, and we have been committed to equitable, global access to new COVID-19 vaccines,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said in a statement.

An additional 180 million doses will also potentially be available to AU member states through 2022, the company said.

The agreement was made months after Johnson & Johnson entered an agreement in principle in December with Gavi to supply its COVAX Facility – the World Health Organization-led plan to provide worldwide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines – with up to 500 million doses through 2022.

The company said Monday that both sides expect to enter a finalized agreement, though no date or timeline was given.

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

According to Oxford University, Africa has administered far fewer shots per 100 people than all other continents aside from Antarctica, for which the project did not provide data. North America led with nearly 26 doses administered per 100 people, compared to Africa at 0.74 doses.

The WHO has repeatedly called on rich nations to join its COVAX plan, share their extra doses and not fall into vaccine nationalism.

On Thursday, the WHO said only 7.7 million vaccine doses had been administered throughout the entire African continent, though mainly to high-risk populations.

Those targeted may continue to go unvaccinated due to global supply chain constraints, it said, stating 10 African nations have still not yet received a vaccine.

“While some high-income countries are seeking to vaccinate their entire populations, many in Africa are struggling to sufficiently cover even their high-risk groups,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement. “Acquiring Covid-19 vaccines must not be a competition. Fair access will benefit all and not just some of us.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has long warned rich countries against vaccine nationalism and early last week said inequitable distribution was “becoming more grotesque every day.”

He also urged rich countries to share vaccines with poorer nations out of their own self-interest as the longer the virus spreads anywhere in the world the greater risk it mutates and the higher the risk it will evade vaccines.

COVAX has so far distributed more than 32 million doses to 60 participating countries, including at least 14 in Africa, according to its website.

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