African countries will be able to access up to 400 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) said on Monday.
"This agreement is a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans," said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is chairperson of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVATT), an initiative to help the continent secure coronavirus vaccine doses.
The agreement secures 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the first instance, with the opportunity to buy an additional 180 million doses. The price per dose was not outlined.
The vaccines will be produced by a South African pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharma through an agreement with the US drugmaker. Most of the doses will be produced at Aspen Pharma's facility in the Eastern Cape.
"Aspen belongs to us as South Africans," Ramaphosa said, during a visit to the vaccine production site on Monday. "We as South Africans must be in pole position to receive these vaccines and for them to be made available to the continent immediately,"
The deal was made through some US$2 billion provided by Afreximbank, who are effectively underwriting the purchase. It is understood that African countries will take out loans with the lender to buy the doses.
Afreximbank said that African countries had a strong preference for the Johnson & Johnson jab. It is a single shot dose that has been granted emergency use status by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The vaccine has been shown to be 66% effective in clinical trials, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, providing protection against Covid-19 some two weeks after receiving an injection.
The other popular viral vector vaccine, AstraZeneca, was sold by South Africa to other African countries over concerns that it offered minimal protection against the South African variant of the coronavirus.
The African continent had struggled to secure doses of Covid-19 vaccines, as pharmaceutical companies struck deals with more powerful and wealthy countries.
There are fears that insufficient vaccination programmes across Africa could leave the continent isolated and cut off from the world.
Africa is expected to receive 88 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines through the COVAX facility, a global initiative designed to provide equitable access to vaccines for all participating nations, by the first half of 2021.