(Reuters) -Johnson & Johnson has agreed to supply up to 400 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the African Union (AU) from the third quarter of 2021, the drugmaker said on Monday, as the continent struggles to get shots into arms and tame infections.
J&J unit Janssen Pharmaceutica NV has entered into a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to deliver 220 million doses of its single-dose shot. AVAT could order an additional 180 million doses through 2022.(https://refini.tv/3cyeFiB)
The deal comes after months of negotiations with the AU, which announced a provisional agreement in January to buy 270 million doses of vaccines from three drugmakers: J&J, AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech.
The status of the talks with the other two companies is not known.
AVAT said on Monday many countries out of the 55 AU member states showed strong preference for J&J.
The supplies will help the continent reach its target of vaccinating at least 750 million people, or 60% of the population, as it tries to contain the spread of the virus which has killed almost 121,000 people and infected 4.18 million on the region.
It is also grappling with a more-infectious variant identified in South Africa amid concerns about delays of deliveries of AstraZeneca shots as part of the COVAX scheme which is aimed at supplying poorer countries.
In February, South Africa put on hold use of AstraZeneca's shot after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country's dominant variant.
The continent is far behind wealthy nations, including Israel, the United States and Britain, in its vaccination rollout. Almost half of Britons have received their first dose, while in contrast only 0.4% of South Africa's population has received one dose.
"We need to immunize at least 60% of our population in order to get rid of the virus from our continent. The J&J agreement enables us to move towards achieving this target," said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most of the supplies will be produced by Aspen Pharma in South Africa, AVAT said in a statement.
Nkengasong did not comment on the price per shot agreed between J&J and the AU in the deal announced on Monday. However, a draft document for the AU vaccine plan, seen by Reuters in January, showed that the J&J shot would cost African countries $10 a dose.
As part of the AU vaccine plan, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has approved up to $2 billion in finance for countries to buy shots via the AU.
Earlier this month, Europe approved J&J single dose COVID-19 vaccine. The United States, Canada and Bahrain have also approved the shot.
Late last year, J&J said it and the GAVI vaccine alliance expected to enter into a deal that would provide up to 500 million doses of the company's vaccine to COVAX through 2022.
(Reporting by Nandakumar D in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa and David Lewis in Nairobi; Writing by Josephine Mason in London;Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Nick Macfie)