The UN children’s agency-UNICEF has signed an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV to supply up to 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine for all 55 Member States of the African Union (AU). Some 35 million doses are to be delivered by the end of this year while the rest are expected before the end of 2022.
The new agreement implements the Advance Purchase Commitment (APC) signed between the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and Janssen earlier in March. The agreement secured an option to order another 180 million doses, bringing the maximum access up to a total of 400 million doses by the end of 2022.
The African Union established AVAT in November 2020 to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the African continent, with a goal of vaccinating 60 per cent of each AU country’s population. Under the plan, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and AVAT have signed a cooperation agreement on behalf of the AU for the development of an Advance Procurement Commitment (APC) Framework to support Member State access to COVID-19 vaccines.
UNICEF will procure and deliver COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the AVAT initiative together with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and the World Bank. While multiple vaccines are anticipated to be part of the initiative’s portfolio, Janssen’s single-dose vaccine is the first to be included.
“African countries must have affordable and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. Vaccine access has been unequal and unfair, with less than 1 per cent of the population of the African continent currently vaccinated against COVID-19. This cannot continue,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“UNICEF, with its long history of delivering vaccines all around the world is supporting global COVID-19 vaccinations efforts through AVAT, COVAX, and other channels to maximize supply and access to vaccines.”
Janssen’s COVID-19 vaccine received a World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL) on March 12th and its latest site for production, Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa was approved by the WHO on June 29th.
Deliveries of the vaccine are expected to begin later in the 3rd quarter of 2021 with allocations to be determined by the Africa CDC. The agreement comes as the African continent faces the steepest surge in COVID-19 cases yet, and vaccine supply challenges have left many countries with large unvaccinated populations.
For instance, on Thursday, WHO reported that cases in Africa have risen for seven consecutive weeks since the onset of the third wave in early May. More than 251 000 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on the continent in a week, amounting to a 20% increase over the previous week and a 12% jump from the January peak.