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‘Activism Works’: EU to Return Covid Vaccines to Africa After Backlash

A healthcare worker holds vials containing doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine on February 18, 2021 in South Africa. (Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

“We can and must overcome greedy pharma and selfish rich governments’ business as usual.”

Jake Johnson September 3, 2021

The European Union has agreed to return to Africa millions of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine doses that were shipped out of the continent under a contract arrangement that drew widespread backlash from vaccine equity campaigners and African officials.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, the South Africa-based pharmaceutical giant Aspen “has a contract with J&J to fill into vials and package the U.S. company’s vaccine, with some 40% of its production slated for export to Europe through September and the rest going to African countries.”

When the details of the contract first emerged last month, Fatima Hassan of the South Africa-based Health Justice Initiative called the agreement “the sickening result of the free market in a pandemic—while Africa waits for supplies and gets a drip feed, more vaccine stock is diverted to Europe.”

But Strive Masiyiwa, head of the African Union’s Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, said Thursday that the “arrangement has been suspended.” Masiyiwa said less than 20 million doses were exported to the E.U. under the deal.

“All the vaccines from this facility are now under the control of the South African government,” he added.

he People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 70 international public health and human rights organizations, called the suspension of the agreement “a step in the right direction” and said that “African manufacturers should be allowed to produce for Africans.”

“Activism works! We can and must overcome greedy pharma and selfish rich governments’ business as usual,” the coalition tweeted. “We need a people’s vaccine.”

According to the latest data, just 11% of South Africa’s population—and less than 3% of the total population of the African continent—has been fully vaccinated. By contrast, around 70% of adults in the E.U. have been fully inoculated against Covid-19.

“In Africa, the issue is vaccine supply,” Masiyiwa said Thursday. “Even if there are loud noises about vaccine hesitancy—and we will not dismiss it—but let’s get to 60%, OK, and then we worry about the 40%.”

“But if 60% of our population right now are happy to take the vaccine,” he added, “let’s give it to them.”


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