results of a clinical trial suggested that the vaccine from AstraZeneca offered little protection from mild or moderate infections caused by the Beta variant that was circulating in South Africa.

Weeks later, Johnson & Johnson and the government signed a contract for 11 million doses. South Africa ordered another 20 million doses in April. That would be enough to vaccinate about half the country.

South Africa agreed to pay $10 per dose for the 11 million shots, according to the contract. That was the same price that the United Statespaid and slightly more than the $8.50 that the European Commission agreed to pay. The South African contract prohibited the government from banning exports of the vaccine, citing the need for doses to “move freely across national borders.”

introduced export controls this year to conserve scarce supplies. India halted exports produced by the Serum Institute, which was supposed to be a major vaccine supplier to poor countries. In the United States, officials said they didn’t ban exports, but they didn’t need to. The combination of the extensive vaccine production on American soil and the high prices the U.S. government was willing to pay meant that companies made the delivery of shots for Americans a priority.

Other benefits for Johnson & Johnson were embedded in the South African contract.

While such contracts typically protect companies from lawsuits brought by individuals, this one shielded Johnson & Johnson from suits by a wider range of parties, including the government. It also imposed an unusually high burden on potential litigants to show that any injuries caused by the vaccine were the direct result of company representatives engaging in deliberate misconduct or failing to follow manufacturing best practices.

“The upshot is that you have moved almost all of the risk of something being wrong with the vaccine to the government,” said Sam Halabi, a health law expert at Georgetown University who reviewed sections of the South African contract at the request of The Times.

Mr. Halabi said the contract’s terms appeared more favorable to the pharmaceutical company than other Covid vaccine contracts he had seen. South African officials have said Pfizer, too, sought aggressive legal protections.

The contract said Johnson & Johnson would aim to deliver 2.8 million doses to South Africa by the end of June, another 4.1 million doses by the end of September and another 4.1 million doses by the end of December. (The government expects the 20 million additional doses to be delivered by the end of this year, Mr. Maja said.)

The company has so far fallen far short of those goals. As of the end of June, South Africa had received only about 1.5 million of the doses from its order. The small number of doses that have been delivered to the African Union were on schedule.

The difficulties in procuring doses have revealed the limits of fill-and-finish sites, which leave countries dependent on vaccines from places like the European Union or the United States, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, who until March was co-chairman of South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid.

“Ultimately,” he said, “the solution to our problem has to be in making our own vaccines.”

Lynsey Chutel and Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting.

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