Millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson (J&J)’s Covid-19 vaccine produced in South Africa and intended to be shipped to Europe will remain in Africa.
The doses were manufactured by South Africa’s Aspen, a partner of J&J, for the European Union. But advocacy from the African Union (AU), as well as interventions from the presidents of South Africa and the European Commission, led J&J to stop shipments outside of Africa. Further, the 20 million doses already shipped to the EU will be returned, said the AU’s envoy Strive Masiyiwa.
Given the acute shortage of vaccines in Africa, the agreement to ship South African-produced doses to the EU had come under severe criticism from vaccine equity advocates as well as international organizations, including the World Health Organization.
Last month, after being criticized for the agreement, the EU said its import of doses from South Africa was a temporary solution after J&J’s US partner, Emergent Biosolutions, had problems producing vaccines in one of its factories.
But it was hard to justify depriving the African continent of any of the doses produced there. So far, 70% Europeans have received both doses of Covid-19 vaccines, while the percentage of Africans who are fully vaccinated is less than 1%.
The vaccines made by Aspen are initially imported from the US, then bottled and packaged in South Africa—a stage of the vaccine-making process known as “fill and finish.” These vaccines will now stay in the continent, going towards the fulfillment of the order of more than 250 million doses—with the option of another 180 million—J&J is meant to supply to South Africa and the AU.
Although African countries are supposed to receive more than half a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of the year, so far the supply has fallen to a trickle, while wealthy countries enjoy enough of a surplus to be able to star booster campaigns.
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