Tina Ezin, Calabar
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said as African continent faces steepest surge in COVID-19 and shortage of vaccine, it has signed an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV to supply 220 million doses of the J&J single-dose vaccine for all 55 member states of the African Union (AU) by the end of 2022.
This was made known in a press statement made available through its media representative in Africa, adding that about 35 million doses are to be delivered by the end of this year, as the agreement secured an option to order another 180 million doses, bringing the maximum access up to a total of 400 million doses by the end of next year.
It stated that the agreement between UNICEF and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV would help implement the Advance Purchase Commitment (APC) signed between the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and Janssen in March of this year.
The statement further noted that UNICEF will procure and deliver COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of AVAT, an African Union initiative.
Other partners include the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and the World Bank. While multiple vaccines are anticipated to be part of the initiative’s portfolio, Janssen’s single-dose vaccine is the first to be included.
“African countries must have affordable and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. Vaccine access has been unequal and unfair, with less than 1 per cent of the population of the African continent currently vaccinated against COVID-19. This cannot continue,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “UNICEF, with its long history of delivering vaccines all around the world, is supporting global COVID-19 vaccinations efforts through AVAT, COVAX, and other channels to maximize supply and access to vaccines.”
Drawing upon decades of experience as the largest single vaccine buyer in the world as it does annually for routine immunization, UNICEF is acting as a procurement and logistics agency on behalf of the AVAT partnership. UNICEF stands ready to facilitate the procurement, transport and delivery of vaccines as soon as they become available and AU Member States are ready to receive them. With its extensive capacity and decades of expertise in managing freight, insurance and transport of vaccines which require strict adherence to cold chain requirements, UNICEF will work with the vaccine industry, freight forwarders and transport companies to get the doses to the communities that need them.
Janssen’s COVID-19 vaccine received a WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) on 12 March and is relying on a global supply network to produce the vaccine. The latest site for production, Aspen Pharmacare in Gqeberha, South Africa, was approved by the WHO on 29 June. Deliveries of the vaccine are expected to begin later in the 3rd quarter of 2021, with allocations to be determined by the Africa CDC.
In addition to its role in this partnership, UNICEF is also a key implementing partner for the COVAX Facility led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and CEPI. Under this initiative, UNICEF has contributed to the delivery of more than 100 million doses to 135 countries. UNICEF’s role procuring and delivering COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of AVAT will complement and supplement the shared COVAX goal of ensuring equitable access to quality-assured COVID-19 vaccines.
“Vaccinating the world against COVID-19, as the virus continues to spread and mutate, is one of the largest and most complex collective health undertakings the world has ever seen, and we need all hands on deck,” said Fore. “In the race to defeat this virus, equity is not a ‘nice to have’ — it’s an absolute necessity. This pandemic has cost everyone something, and some people everything. Only together can we bring the suffering to an end.” the statement read.