March 29 (UPI) — Johnson & Johnson announced Monday its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical has entered into an agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust to make available up to 220 million doses of its one-shot COVID-19 candidate vaccine.
The company said in a release delivery of the vaccine to the African Union’s 55 member states will begin in the third quarter of the year if the one-shot regimen is granted approval by the various national regulatory authorities.
“From the beginning of this pandemic, Johnson & Johnson has recognized that no one is safe until everyone is safe, and we have been committed to equitable, global access to new COVID-19 vaccines,” said Alex Gorsky, chairman and chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson.
An additional 180 million doses will also potentially be available to the AU member states through 2022, the company said, with out elaborating.
The agreement was made months after Johnson & Johnson entered an agreement in principle in December with Gavi to supply its COVAX Facility — the World Health Organization-led plan to provide worldwide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines — with up to 500 million doses of its candidate drug through 2022.
The company said Monday that both sids expect to enter a finalized agreement, though no date nor timeline was given.
“Our support for the COVAX Facility, combined with countries and regions, will help accelerate global progress toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gorsky said.
According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data, Africa, with some 1.34 billion people, has administered far fewer shots per 100 people than all other continents aside from Antarctica, for which the project did not provide data.
North America, with a population of almost 600 million, led with nearly 26 doses administered per 100 people compared to Africa at 0.74 doses.
The WHO has repeatedly called on rich nations to join its COVAX plan, share their extra doses and not fall into vaccine nationalism.
On Thursday, the WHO said only 7.7 million vaccine doses had been administered throughout the entire African continent, though mainly to high-risk populations.
Those targeted may continue to go unvaccinated due to global supply chain constraints, it said, stating 10 African nations have still not yet received a vaccine.
“While some high-income countries are seeking to vaccinate their entire populations, many in Africa are struggling to sufficiently cover even their high-risk groups,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement. “Acquiring COVID-19 vaccines must not be a competition. Fair access will benefit all and not just some of us.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has long warned rich countries against this so-called vaccine nationalism and early last week he said the inequitable distribution of the life-saving jab was “becoming more grotesque every day.”
He urged rich countries to share vaccines with poorer nations out of their own self-interest as the longer the virus spreads anywhere in the world the greater risk it mutates and the higher the risk it will evade vaccines.
As of late last week, COVAX has distributed more than 32 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 60 participating countries, including at least 14 in Africa, according to its website.