Zimbabwe expects first Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines as AU rollout finally starts

Zimbabwe looking to add to vaccine purchases with more procurement via AU, COVAX (Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Getty Images)

Zimbabwe is to receive its first Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shots under an African Union rollout that began on Thursday.

The AU has announced the start of monthly shipments of vaccines acquired by the AU’s African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to AU member states. This is part of a deal reached in March, where African countries have access to 220 million Johnson & Johnson doses. The rollout is under a US$2 billion procurement deal backed by Afreximbank, and includes a possibility to order 180 million more doses.

“We have been informed that we are going to receive some allocation from the AU…It will be a new vaccine, Johnson & Johnson. That’s the one they are offering and we have paid for that,” Mnangagwa said while meeting some political leaders last week.

Zimbabwe has already paid a deposit for the vaccines, and expects five million doses to be delivered over the coming months. Like all other countries on the AU programme, Zimbabwe will make the rest of the payment from an Afreximbank loan.

Separate from the AU vaccines, Zimbabwe also expects 3.5 million vaccines under the COVAX facility in September. So far, Zimbabwe has received a total of 6.785 million vaccine doses, the bulk of which have been direct government purchases.

The AU vaccines will be the first time that Zimbabwe uses Johnson & Johnson. The vaccine was approved for use by the medicines regulator in May, but the government had delayed procurement as it assessed storage and safety concerns.

African vaccine procurement 

These are the first vaccines that Africa has collectively bought. Hoarding of vaccines by wealthy nations has left African countries behind. Rich countries have given close to 100 vaccines for every 100 people and are planning booster shots, while the vaccination rate in Africa is just 1.5 per every hundred, the WHO said on Wednesday.

“Delivering our first doses to African Union Member States is an unprecedented milestone,” businessman Strive Masiyiwa, who heads the AU’s vaccine procurement task force, said in a statement on Thursday.

“We are deploying relentless efforts to help each Member State to reach its goal of immunising 60% of Africans, as recommended by the Africa CDC. Johnson & Johnson AVAT-purchased single-shot vaccines will enable us to considerably improve our vaccination level across the continent,” Masiyiwa said.

The first monthly shipments have started going out to member states, and 6.4 million doses will be shipped through August. The programme targets to deliver 50 million vaccines by December, and at least 25 million vaccines per month from January.

The AU doses are being supplied by Aspen Pharma in South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “By working together and by pooling resources, African countries have been able to secure millions of vaccine doses produced right here in Africa.”