The African Union has decided to stop plans to secure Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines because of supply concerns from India’s Serum Institute.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention will instead focus on the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, said John Nkengasong, the AU’s disease control unit’s director.
The decision not to buy AstraZeneca is so as “not to duplicate efforts”, Nkengasong said. African countries will still receive the AstraZeneca jab through the World Health Organization’s global vaccine-sharing facility Covax.
“We didn’t want to compete with Covax,” he told the Financial Times. “[AstraZeneca] vaccines from the Serum Institute of India are coming to the continent, anyway.” Nkengasong stressed that the decision had “nothing to do” with concerns in Europe about blood clots, insisting that “we recommend the use of the [AstraZeneca] vaccine”.
Last month India, one of the world’s biggest vaccine producers, froze all major exports of jabs to prioritise local vaccinations amid an accelerating second wave of coronavirus infections.
The AU’s decision is the latest blow to AstraZeneca’s troubled vaccine rollout, following rulings by UK and European regulators that found a link between the jab and very rare blood clots on Wednesday. Spain and Italy have moved to limit the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged above 60, and the UK to those aged over 30.
Delays in deliveries of AstraZeneca doses were hampering vaccination drives across Africa, Nkengasong said, and the ability to forecast when doses will be available is vital when planning those efforts.
This latest decision “was just a clear understanding of how not to duplicate efforts with the Serum Institute, so that we complement each other rather than duplicate efforts”, he said earlier, during a press briefing. Last week, J&J announced an agreement to supply the AU with up to 400m doses of the jab by the third quarter of the year.
Since it was agreed “Covax would get those [AstraZeneca] doses and start with the vaccination programme, we now shifted our efforts to the Johnson & Johnson arrangement and that is what led to the agreement of last week, so that the Serum Institute of India was enabled to be able to supply doses to the Covax mechanism”, he added during Thursday’s briefing.
In January, Nkengasong said the Africa CDC was planning to receive another 400m shots of AstraZeneca from the Serum Institute, in addition to 270m previously discussed. These vaccines have not arrived.
The WHO has said the aim of Covax is to vaccinate at least 20 per cent of Africans with 600m doses of the AstraZeneca jab by the end of the year.
“Our goal is to get to 60 per cent. If Covax gets to 20 per cent, then we can go and find additional doses to get to 60. If Covax goes to AstraZeneca to get those doses, we can then go to Johnson & Johnson to find the remaining vaccines,” Nkengasong added.