Ahead of the launch of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 jab made by Hyderabad-based Biological E, health activists and intellectual property experts have called on the American company to prioritize supplying to “ needy ” countries, including India.
This comes from apprehensions that the US company is diverting locally manufactured doses to the EU and other wealthy nations, to fulfill its contracts.
Wealthy nations like Canada, the US, Australia and the UK already have huge vaccine stocks, and are believed to be among those that have secured vaccines to cover between 200% and 400% of their population. With a Delta variant raging in certain countries and the threat of mutant variants on the rise, there is growing concern about hugely uneven and unequal access to vaccines.
In a letter to J&J, the Biden administration and the Center, civil society says: “J&J must send these 600 million vaccines, some of which are ready, where they are needed most and not where they can make the most money.”
A steady supply of vaccines from various companies could help India achieve its ambitious goal of vaccinating the entire adult population by December 31. So far, approximately 20% of the adult population have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 62% have received at least one dose.
The fear of diverting Indian-made doses to rich countries stems from the controversy in South Africa. Initially, the country did not receive the vaccines that were manufactured locally at Aspen Pharmacare, a South African company contracted by J&J. After much scandal, a small number of doses was reserved for the country, they added.
In addition, activists have asked the Biden administration “to convince J&J to authorize its vaccine, including technology and assistance, to all manufacturers currently engaged in making Sputnik V.” (The J&J jab and Russia’s Sputnik V were developed on the viral vector technology platform)
They added that J&J, which received more than $ 1 billion in federal funding for research and development alone, has had trouble producing large quantities of its vaccine.
It is understood that the US company has the distribution and export rights of the doses contracted by the manufacturer Bio E. The company is expected to produce 40 million doses of J&J each month.
When contacted, a J&J India spokesperson said, “Johnson & Johnson is committed to facilitating equitable global access to its COVID-19 vaccine. Our teams work around the clock to widely develop and activate our manufacturing capabilities to deliver our COVID-19 vaccine. We believe Biological E will be an important part of our global COVID-19 vaccine supply chain network. ”
Although J&J received regulatory approval for the jab in India on August 7, there is still no clarity on its pricing and delivery schedule. The first batches of the jab were reportedly sent to the Central Drug Laboratory, Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh for quality and safety checks.
The letter, from Third World Network, Lawyers Collective, Center for Law & Policy Research and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, arrives ahead of the US-led Global COVID-19 Summit on September 22, and PM Modi’s visit to the United States. .
According to media reports, the United States has been pressuring India to resume exports of Covid-19 vaccines, which were halted after March.