Johnson & Johnson pledges 400M single-dose COVID-19 vaccines to African Union

coronavirus vaccine
Johnson & Johnson hopes to supply 500 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to lower-income countries through WHO's COVAX facility. (nevodka/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Johnson & Johnson has kept global access at the heart of its COVID-19 vaccine supply efforts, pledging 500 million doses to lower-income countries late last year. Now, the drugmaker is setting aside another quarter-billion doses to shore up vaccination efforts in Africa.

Johnson & Johnson locked up a deal to provide the African Union with up to 400 million doses of its one-and-done COVID-19 vaccine through 2022, to be rolled out as it’s approved by the bloc’s 55 member states.

J&J will sell the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) up to 220 million doses to start, with the option to sell another 180 million shots in the future. Deliveries from the initial tranche should kick off in the third quarter of 2021, while the remaining doses will be supplied through next year, J&J said in a release.

The company's South African manufacturing partner, Aspen Pharmacare, will chip in on shipments to AU member states, J&J said. Aspen in November agreed to set aside its plant in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where it says it will perform formulation, filling and secondary packaging of the vaccine. 

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The sale comes on top of 500 million doses that Johnson & Johnson hopes to pledge to Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. Together with the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI has set up COVAX, a multinational vaccine distribution initiative that aims to deploy some 2 billion doses to lower-income countries.

J&J, for its part, says it's providing its shot on a "not-for-profit basis" during the pandemic. 

Africa is one of the regions lined up for COVAX shots, and at the beginning of March, the World Health Organization said that initial vaccination campaigns had started in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire using AstraZeneca doses manufactured by Serum Institute of India. 

Hedging its bets, the African Union in January locked down 270 million provisional vaccine doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, Reuters reported, quoting South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported in February that both Pfizer and Moderna had offered their vaccines directly to South Africa. 

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine started racking up Western authorizations in February, beginning in the U.S. Green lights in Canada and the European Union followed soon after in March. The phase 3 data J&J submitted for its emergency use authorization showed the vaccine was 66.1% effective overall at preventing infection and 85% effective at preventing severe disease.

The shot performed better in some sections of the multi-regional trial than others, turning out 72% efficacy in the U.S., compared to 66% in Latin America and 57% in South Africa, which is grappling with a concerning virus variant that has since made its way to the U.S.

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Stateside, Johnson & Johnson recently agreed to sell the U.S. another 100 million doses to the U.S., bringing the country's total J&J order up to 200 million. The deal came a week after J&J's "wartime" partnership with vaccine giant Merck, which has agreed to support drug substance, formulation and vial filling work for J&J's single-dose shot.

And in Europe, Sanofi has committed its plant in Marcy l’Etoile, France, to formulate the J&J vaccine and fill vials, with a view to turn out some 12 million doses per month, Sanofi said in February.