The EU is to return doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine it imported from South Africa, and no more doses will leave the continent, reports Business Insider SA.
A deal was reached between President Cyril Ramaphosa and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen last week, announced African Union envoy Strive Masiyiwa.
Local company Aspen Pharmacare held a contract with J&J for fill-and-finish manufacturing of its vaccine, which is valued in the African context because of being a single dose, and not needing extremely cold storage and transport.
Under that contract, South Africa could not hold the doses made ready here – and 10 million were to be shipped to Europe during August and September. But that contract will now be converted to a licence agreement with J&J relinquishing control over where the vaccine doses go. Vaccines made in South Africa will be “ African branded”, said Masiyiwa.
Aspen expects to produce 500 million doses of the J&J vaccine from January 2022.
The AU previously expressed concern that vaccine nationalism would see first-world countries block the export of COVID-19 vaccine doses earmarked for the African continent, even as vaccines made ready on the continent are shipped to the global north.
Ramaphosa met Von der Leyen at the G20 Compact with Africa event, and related networking opportunities, in Berlin on 27 August at which Von der Leyen had revealed she was unaware of the deal to export J&J doses from South Africa to the EU.
The deal had encountered criticism from the World Health Organisation, to which the EU responded by describing the exports as a “temporary measure”, a stopgap after a shortfall caused by problems at an American factory.
Days after meeting Ramaphosa, Von der Leyen said the EU had reached a herd-immunity target of vaccinating 70% of adults in the bloc. South Africa will reach reach 25% coverage for adults soon, but much of the rest of the continent is behind that, with average vaccination rates hovering around the 3% mark.
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