SOUTH AFRICA – Strive Masiyiwa, an envoy of the African Union (AU) has made known to the public that the J&J vaccines manufacture by South Africa’s leading drug manufacturer, Aspen, will no longer be exported to Europe.
The shots packaged by J&J’s South African partner Aspen that were already sent to Europe would be returned, Masiyiwa told a news briefing organized by the AU’s disease control body.
J&J had shipped less than 20 million doses to Europe, he said, and the halting of the shipments was partly due to interventions by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Under its contract with J&J, Aspen imports the drug substance for the vaccine from the U.S. pharmaceutical company and packages it, a process called “fill and finish”, at its plant in South Africa.
J&J has a bilateral deal with South Africa to supply 31 million vaccine doses and a separate contract with the AU for 220 million doses with an option for a further 180 million.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month he was “stunned” by the arrangement, since Europe has very high vaccination rates while even the most vulnerable people in many African countries had not been vaccinated.
Building on their previous sentiments, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a moratorium on COVID-19 boosters, at least until the end of this month, to allow countries that are furthest behind with vaccination to catch up.
WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that some countries are now rolling out booster doses to fully-vaccinated people when millions of people around the world have not even received their first dose.
“The third dose may be necessary for at most risk people, where there’s evidence of waning immunity against severe COVID-19 disease and death, such as the small group of immunocompromised people who didn’t respond sufficiently to initial doses or are no longer producing antibodies,” Dr Tedros stated.
“But for now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated.”
The UN Health Agency reiterated that shocking inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines are still being witnessed, with more than 5 billion vaccines having been administered globally, and almost 75% of them have been in just 10 countries.
“In low-income countries, most of which are in Africa, less than 2% of adults are fully vaccinated, compared with almost 50% in high‑income countries.”
WHO also stated that last week, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported to the agency declined for the first time in more than 2 months.
“This is obviously very welcome, but it doesn’t mean much. Around the globe, many countries are still seeing steep increases in cases and deaths.” Dr. Tedros said.