The African Union (AU) has procured up to 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for all member states. Preorders showed that a majority of African nations preferred the U.S.-developed vaccine.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine makes it the practical choice to initiate Africa’s inoculation campaign in the third quarter of 2021.
“We need to immunize at least 60% of our population in order to get rid of the virus from our continent,” Nkengasong told Reuters. “The [Johnson & Johnson] agreement enables us to move towards achieving this target.”
A pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in South Africa operated by Aspen Pharma will produce most of the vaccines.
The vaccines will be available to African countries through the African Medical Supplies Platform. The historic AU agreement was the result of cooperation between the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust Team, the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO).
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa worked directly with Johnson & Johnson during his tenure as AU chairman. South Africa was the first country to use the vaccine, which has been shown to be effective at preventing severe illness from a variant of the virus that emerged in South Africa in December and has since spread to more than 30 countries.
“This agreement is a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans,” Ramaphosa said in a report by miningreview.com. “It is also a powerful demonstration of African unity and of what we can achieve through partnership between the state sector, the private sector and international institutions that puts people first.”
Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous nation, hopes to receive 70 million of the vaccines — with an initial shipment of 30 million by July.
“This is yet to be finalized, but these are some of the advanced conversations that are going on between Nigeria and the African Union,” Faisal Shuaib, head of Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency, told Reuters.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine still must receive authorization from regulators in African countries, but it has been approved for emergency use by the WHO, European Union and U.S.
U.S. health officials paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as they review reports that six of the nearly 7 million Americans who received the shot developed a rare but serious blood clot. In an April 13 statement, Johnson & Johnson spokesman Jake Sargent said “no clear causal relationship” was established between the blood clots and the vaccine.
“We continue to work closely with experts and regulators to assess the data and support the open communication of this information to health care professionals and the public,” Sargent said.
South African Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize said the country was halting use of the vaccine temporarily “out of an abundance of caution.”
Dr. Mkhize said no blood clots associated with the vaccine have been detected among the more than 289,000 South Africans who received it. He said in an ABC News report on April 13 that questions over the vaccine would “likely be cleared in a matter of days.”