The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has signed an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV to supply up to 220 million doses of the J&J single-dose vaccine to all 55 member-states of the African Union (AU) by the end of 2022.
Some 35 million doses are to be delivered by the end of this year, UNICEF stated in a statement issued on Thursday in New York.
The agreement, between UNICEF and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, will help implement the Advance Purchase Commitment (APC) signed between the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and Janssen last March.
That 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 2022.
The AU established AVAT in November 2020 to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the African continent, with a goal of vaccinating 60 per cent of the population of member-states.
Under the plan, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and AVAT have signed a cooperation agreement on behalf of the AU for the development of an Advance Procurement Commitment (APC) Framework to support member-states access to COVID-19 vaccines.
UNICEF will procure and deliver COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the AVAT 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 one per cent of the population of the African continent currently vaccinated against COVID-19 and this cannot continue.
“UNICEF, with its long history of delivering vaccines all around the world, is supporting global COVID-19 vaccination efforts through AVAT, COVAX, and other channels to maximize supply and access to vaccines,” the statement quoted UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, as saying.
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 says it 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.
UNICEF plans to 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 third quarter of 2021, with allocations to be determined by the Africa CDC.
The agreement comes as the African continent faces the steepest surge in COVID-19 cases yet and vaccine supply challenges have left many countries with large unvaccinated populations.
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.
“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 further quoted Fore as saying.