Civil society groups write to govt, Johnson and Johnson on vax supply

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on September 17, 2021

Apprehend a South Africa-type situation could emerge in India

Civil society groups have written to the Indian government and Johnson and Johnson on the supply of Covid-19 vaccines, and to prevent, as they apprehend, a South Africa-like situation from emerging in India.

“At the moment, J&J has unfulfilled orders from the European Union (EU) and the US, among other rich countries, all of whom have been hoarding and ordering doses in excess of their domestic needs. There is undoubtedly much money to be made by fulfilling these contracts. But these countries are not where vaccines are most needed,” the letter said, voicing the civil society representatives’ apprehension on the fate of 600 million-odd doses.

J&J has a production and supply tie-up with Biological E in India. “We demand that any J&J vaccine doses made in India be supplied on priority to the Indian government, the African Union, and the World Health Organization-supported Covax facility,” the letter said.

South Africa experience

Pointing to the South Africa experience, the letter alleged: “Aspen Pharmacare, a South African pharmaceutical company, was contracted by J&J to produce 300 million doses of the J&J vaccine on a fill-and-finish basis. Initially, the contract did not guarantee any supply to either South Africa or the African continent. After the South African government and civil society highlighted the issue, a small quantity of these doses was set aside for the country.” Apprehending that a similar situation was now “playing out in India”, the letter said India has a Covid vaccine crisis.

“The government of India committed, in court, to vaccinating all adults before the end of this year. In line with this goal, the Indian drug regulatory authority quickly provided J&J with an Emergency Use Authorisation.

“Despite clear signs that India will not have enough vaccines to accomplish this goal, J&J has not committed to supply any of their vaccines to the country,” the letter alleged. Representatives from over a dozen civil society organisations, including Third World Network Trust (India), Lawyers Collective, The AccessIBSA Project and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, had signed the letter.

Responding to the concerns raised by civil society, a J&J India spokesperson told BusinessLine: “Johnson & Johnson is committed to facilitating global equitable access to its Covid vaccine. Our teams are working around the clock to develop and broadly activate our manufacturing capabilities to supply our Covid vaccine. We believe Biological E will be an important part of our global COVID-19 vaccine supply chain network.” Further, the company spokesperson added: “It is premature for us to speculate on the timing of our vaccine deliveries.”

Recently, J&J’s Paul Stoffels, Vice-Chairman, Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, had said at a global industry interaction that technology transfer was underway with India’s Biological E. “We started from scratch, completely new plant, competely new equipment, the plant was not there 18 months ago and at present its being validated for drug substance. ... there is a fill and finish line, that is what is put in place and hopefully before the year end we will be able to start delivering vaccines to India on a large scale,” Stoffels had said.

Published on September 16, 2021

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