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COVID-19: Delays in supplies stall vaccine rollouts in low-income countries

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Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine was paused in the United States and its roll-out in Europe delayed, as health authorities investigate a potential link to rare blood clot events. US federal health agencies made their recommendation on Tuesday after six blood clot cases were reported among the nearly 7 million people who have received the jab in the country. All six cases of cerebral thrombosis involved women aged 18 to 48. The clots developed between six and 13 days after inoculation, the agencies said. Three women also developed thrombocytopenia, a lack of blood platelets. The US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control said use of the vaccine should be suspended while the data is examined, prompting many states to announce the doses would be shelved. The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been used in the United States since last month and has been administered to more than 6.8 million people. Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 coordinator, said the announcement would "not have a significant impact" on the US vaccination plan, noting the jab has made up less than 5 per cent of all shots and that the country has secured enough doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna to be given to 300 million Americans. Shortly after the shots were put on ice in the US, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would "proactively delay" the roll-out of the vaccine in Europe as investigations were under way. The European Union started receiving its very first deliveries of Johnson & Johnson's jab only on Monday, one month after it was given the green light for use in the bloc's 27 member states. Last week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced it was investigating four reported incidents of potentially deadly internal blood clots following vaccinations with Johnson & Johnson, without changing its recommendation status. Earlier, EMA had identified a similar possible link between thrombosis and British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca's shot in very rare cases, but upheld its backing for the jab. The benefits very much outweighed risks, according to the EU regulator. Many EU countries have limited the use of the AstraZeneca shot to people in older age groups. The suspension of the Johnson & Johnson jab is sure to compound the the vaccine problems of the EU, which has struggled to accelerate its inoculation drive even as several countries are in the midst of a third wave of rising coronavirus cases.

By Sola Ogundipe

As several countries continue to roll out their COVID-19 vaccine campaigns,  delays,  reduced supplies, and increased demand for COVID-19 vaccine doses in India is potentially stalling progress in the vaccination campaigns in low-income countries.

The World Health Organisation, WHO, and other multilateral bodies aim to supply 600 million doses to Africa, enough to vaccinate at least 20 percent of the population.

According to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, 60 countries are affected by the delays in supply of the vaccine doses.

Already, supplies of doses are dwindling in a number of countries that received COVAX shipments earlier, even as health watchers say deliveries of second doses within the recommended time frame, are now in doubt.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: US suspends J&J vaccine over blood clots fears 

So far, more than 38 million doses of vaccines from a variety of manufacturers have been delivered to eligible countries through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment, AMC.

However, the deliveries of the vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India, SII, to low-income countries participating in the COVAX Facility are facing delays as nearly all vaccine exports have been put on hold.

The SII  is on contract to provide COVAX with Covishield – the vaccine it manufactures under license from AstraZeneca – for delivery to 64 low-income countries participating in the Gavi COVAX AMC.

About 28 million Covishield doses have been supplied to COVAX with the expectation of an additional 40 million doses to be delivered in March, and another 50 million doses in April.

Over the last two weeks, COVAX shipped less than two million doses to 92 countries in the developing world and no more than  50,000 doses to low-income countries within the past week.

With this development,  several low-income countries, particularly in Africa may be unable to complete administration of their first shots as the possibility of exhausting their doses without any guarantee of replenishment in sight looms.

There is also uncertainty about whether those that have been received their first shots are guaranteed a second dose.

According to the WHO, Africa will need 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to reach 60 percent of its population to attain herd immunity, hence there should be fairness and equitable distribution of the vaccine doses.

Already, there are indications that the agency may consider speeding up its endorsement of the Sinopharm and Sinovac, Chinese-made vaccines, as well as the Russian  Sputnik V vaccine. None of the jabs have been authorised by regulators in Europe or North America.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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