SOUTH AFRICA – The South African Government is considering terminating its COVID-19 vaccine contract with multinational healthcare company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) following late initial deliveries of jabs and current lower-than-expected demand.

South Africa’s Department of Health Deputy Director General Nicholas Crisp disclosed that so far, the country has received 19.6 million of the 31 million doses it originally ordered.

According to an official statement, South Africa signed a contract with J&J in February 2021 for 11 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. By April that year, the company had agreed to add 20 million more doses to this order.

For a long period of time, we were unable to get any Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We had to change the vaccination program and rely more on the Pfizer vaccine in the first months,” Crisp told the country’s Parliament recently.

He further said that South Africa ultimately purchased 30 million Pfizer vaccine doses while noting that a United States government donation contributed nearly 7 million more doses to the stock.

When J&J finally diverted 1.5 million doses originally intended for the U.S. market to South Africa in June 2022, the immunizations arrived thawed. Not frozen as it is usually the case to preserve the jabs’ shelf life. These initial doses consequently had a shorter expiry date,” Crisp added.

He explained to the parliament that the country’s advanced purchase agreement with J&J includes payment for a final delivery of 11.4 million vaccines which the country now cannot use given low public demand for the jabs.

Due to Johnson & Johnson’s operational and approval issues in the initial phase of the vaccination programme and the subsequent waning vaccine demand for COVID-19 vaccines, the need for the additional 11.4 million doses no longer exists.

Still, shipments only arrived in South Africa in June 2021, partly because contamination at a U.S. manufacturing plant forced J&J to dispose of about 60 million vaccine doses,” Crisp explained.

Subsequently, the national government has attempted to end its contract for purchasing coronavirus vaccines with J&J to avoid paying for shots it no longer needs.

The South African Parliament is looking at possibly donating unused doses to the World Health Organization, COVAX — the global vaccine sharing initiative — or the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, the African Union’s own pooled vaccine procurement initiative,” Crisp told parliament.

On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson spokesperson Ronan Collins stressed that it is important that all parties adhere to the terms of this agreement, noting that the company supported efforts to increase local vaccine production in South Africa.

He further said that the COVID-19 vaccine procurement contract is a collaborative effort between our company and the government to make the company’s vaccine available, support the country’s response to the pandemic and protect the health of people in South Africa.

The company is committed to addressing the highly complex challenge of vaccine absorption. Overcoming these challenges requires close collaboration across stakeholders, and for vaccine procurement bodies to deploy every vaccine dose ordered to help protect people from COVID-19.” Collins added.

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