Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine was supposed to be one of Africa’s most important weapons against the coronavirus.
The New Jersey-based company agreed to sell enough of its inexpensive single-shot vaccine to eventually inoculate a third of the continent’s residents. And the vaccine would be produced in part by a South African manufacturer, raising hopes that those doses would quickly go to Africans.
That has not happened.
South Africa is still waiting to receive the overwhelming majority of the 31 million vaccine doses it ordered from Johnson & Johnson. It has administered only about two million Johnson & Johnson shots. That is a key reason that fewer than 7 percent of South Africans are fully vaccinated — and that the country was devastated by the Delta variant.
At the same time, Johnson & Johnson has been exporting millions of doses that were bottled and packaged in South Africa for distribution in Europe, according to executives at Johnson & Johnson and the South African manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare, as well as South African government export records reviewed by The New York Times.
donated by the United States. But about four million of the country’s 60 million residents are fully vaccinated.
That left the population vulnerable when a third wave of cases crested over the country. At times in recent months, scores of Covid-19 patients at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg were waiting in the emergency department for a bed, and the hospital’s infrastructure struggled to sustain the huge volumes of oxygen being piped into patients’ lungs, said Dr. Jeremy Nel, an infectious-disease doctor there.
“The third wave, in terms of the amount of death we saw, was the most heartbreaking, because it was the most avoidable,” Dr. Nel said. “You see people by the dozens dying, all of whom are eligible for a vaccine and would’ve been among the first to get it.”
a United Nations-backed clearinghouse for vaccines that has fallen behind on deliveries. South Africa was slow to enter negotiations with manufacturers for its own doses. In January, a group of vaccine experts warned that the government’s “lack of foresight” could cause “the greatest man-made failure to protect the population since the AIDS pandemic.”