By Spy Uganda Correspondent
The African Union will ship 6 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose COVID-19 vaccine next week. This is the first shipment of doses available to countries for purchase through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust.
Following the breakdown in vaccine supplies from COVAX in March, many African countries have been eagerly awaiting these shipments as 29 countries currently struggling with a severe third wave of the pandemic stretching the capacity of many hospitals and causing oxygen and bed shortages in intensive care units.
The AU is aiming to vaccinate 60% of the continent’s population to reach herd immunity. After it became clear the international community, through COVAX, would only provide vaccines to meet a portion of this goal, the AU signed a deal with J&J in March for 400 million doses, to be provided within18 months.
Next week, the 27 countries that have already paid for doses will begin to receive them, said Strive Masiyiwa, special envoy to the African Union, during a press conference on Thursday adding that another 18 countries are in the process of finalizing loans from the World Bank. Masiyiwa said that by the end of August he expects 45 countries will receive their first shipments.
These shipments will be manufactured by the South African company Aspen Pharmacare. Masiyiwa said the 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.
“When we got into trouble this time, it was because there was no production from the African continent. We won’t solve this permanently through donations. We have to have a sustainable approach to production.” Strive Masiyiwa said.
”The AU provided J&J payment upfront to secure the doses through a $2 billion facility approved by the African Export-Import Bank and countries have secured doses through the Africa Medical Supplies Platform. African countries have ordered and placed pre-orders in excess of the 400 million doses outlined in the agreement” he added.
This initial shipment is for the period of July and August. The AU expects to ship 10 million doses a month, starting in September, ramping up to 20 million doses per month in January. UNICEF is the distribution partner for shipping these doses.
This news comes as shipments of donated vaccines from the United States also started arriving on the continent over the past week. The U.S. has delivered about one million J&J doses to Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia, and Senegal in recent days, with another 1.2 million doses set for delivery this week to Cameroon, Lesotho, Niger, Zambia, and Central African Republic, said Jessye Lapenn, U.S. ambassador to the African Union.
According to Muyisibwa, These are the first tranche of shipments of approximately 25 million vaccine doses the U.S. committed to donating to African nations and of these doses, about 15 million are vaccines that require two doses and the other 10 million are single doses,
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.
The news also comes a day after Pfizer and BioNTech signed an agreement for South African company The Biovac Institute to manufacture their COVID-19 vaccine. It’s the first deal the companies have signed to have the vaccine produced on the African continent and the first time an African company will produce a messenger RNA-based vaccine.
It’s an agreement for the company to be involved in the “fill and finish” stage of manufacturing, in which it will receive the substance of the vaccine from abroad and then package and ship the dose the same type of deal Aspen Pharmacare has with J&J.
Export restrictions announced in India in March meant that many African countries were left without second doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to provide to their citizens through COVAX.