Covax, the Covid-19 vaccine acquisition alliance on which most African countries are reliant, announced on Friday that it has struck a deal with Johnson & Johnson.
The vaccine alliance Gavi has purchased 200 million doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab, that will be distributed through the Covax facility this year. No further details on delivery were immediately available.
The deal also includes an option to purchase an additional 300 million doses in 2022, Gavi said in a statement.
The Covax facility was established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Gavi, a non-governmental vaccine distribution platform, largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Nearly 40 African countries are reliant on the Covax facility to access the Covid-19 vaccine.
The announcement came as the Serum Institute of India (SII) said it would prioritise the needs of India before exporting doses.
In a statement published by Indian media this week, the vaccine manufacturer assured nationals that it has not, and will not, export vaccine doses at the expense of India’s vaccination drive.
“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritise India. We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year,” the SII said, according to the Indian Express newspaper.
The SII is one of the three largest Covid-19 manufactures in the world, by its own account. It is also the key manufacturer of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the preferred vaccine for the Covax’s facility’s initial distribution efforts.
The double-dose vaccine, known commercially as Covishield, is less expensive than competitors like Pfizer and Moderna.
It also did not need to be stored at below freezing temperatures, making it easier to roll out in African nations that do not the requisite cold storage facilities.
Africa was supposed to receive 66 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the SII, but to date has only received 18.2 million, the WHO said.
Botswana, Eswatini, Ghana, Libya, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia have all used up their allotted doses, and citizens there were waiting for the required second dose.
The WHO recommends no longer than 12 weeks in between doses.
To reach that, a minimum of 20 million doses need to arrive by June, and five million by July. The WHO is now exploring the possibility of mixing doses, to help those who have already received the AstraZeneca jab.
“With supply constraints, countries will need to find a balance across vaccination strategies including maximising the interval between two doses, and considering the interchangeability of vaccines as further evidence emerges,” WHO said in an email to News24.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts is considering data on this from the United Kingdom, as well as monitoring how long the second dose of AstraZeneca can be delayed before the vaccine loses its efficacy. Initial data showed one dose offered 76% protection for up to three months.