The African Union (AU) has reached an agreement with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to supply 400 million doses of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine for distribution across the continent starting from July 2021.
Africa is looking to vaccinate 60% of its population, per the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation of 60% to 70% COVID-19 vaccine coverage worldwide to control and eventually end the pandemic.
The deal was made through the AU’s African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, and comes on the back of a provisional agreement in January to buy 270 million doses of vaccines from J&J, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer-BioNTech.
The J&J is a single dose vaccine and can be stored in comparable temperatures to the AstraZeneca jab. It is compatible with existing standard vaccine storage and distribution channels with ease of delivery to remote areas.
It's been growing in use globally, after the US approved it for emergency use in February, followed by Europe, Canada, and Bahrain.
“J&J requires just a single dose, it makes a very good programmatically to rollout,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
According to Reuters, AVAT confirmed that the AU’s 55 member states have shown a strong preference for the J&J vaccine — potentially because it has less complex storage and transportation needs, which will make it easier to deploy in warmer climates or in poorer countries.
“We need to immunise at least 60% of our population in order to get rid of the virus from our continent. The J&J agreement enables us to move towards achieving this target,” Nkengasong told Reuters.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is still the most widely used and distributed COVID-19 vaccine in Africa at the moment, and more than 20 million doses have been delivered to over half the continent through the COVAX facility — an initiative to enhance vaccine equity led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
Africa is far behind the rest of the world on vaccine rollout, with countries like Britain — where almost half of the population have already received their first dose — compared to South Africa, where only 0.4% of the population have received one dose.
According to a report by anti-poverty organisation ONE, Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, the US, and the European Union could share almost 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with poorer nations — enough to vaccinate the entire adult population of Africa — and still have enough to vaccinate their entire populations.
As part of the Recovery Plan for the World campaign, Global Citizen is calling on world leaders to support vaccine equity in many ways, including calls to donate excess vaccines to donate doses to lower-income countries. You can join the campaign by taking action here.
Some countries, including Norway, France, and Portugal, have started the trend of donating WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines, which could inspire other world leaders to follow suit and help bridge the vaccine equity gap between Africa and the rest of the world.