Despite the fact that underdeveloped countries have previously been left waiting for tens of millions of vaccines bought from the pharmaceutical company, the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing unnamed sources, that Johnson & Johnson temporarily paused the manufacture of its Covid-19 vaccine late last year.
According to the New York Times:
Johnson & Johnson’s easy-to-deliver Covid-19 shot is the vaccine of choice for much of the developing world. Yet the American company, which has already fallen far behind on its deliveries to poorer countries, late last year quietly shut down the only plant making usable batches of the vaccine, according to people familiar with the decision. The facility, in the Dutch city of Leiden, has instead been making an experimental but potentially more profitable vaccine to protect against an unrelated virus.
Johnson & Johnson’s move to pause vaccine manufacturing at a plant in the Netherlands could reduce output by hundreds of millions of doses. The pause surprised the company’s largest customers at the African Union and the global vaccine consortium Covax, the newspaper reports.
It remains unclear whether vaccine stockpiles will be sufficient to insulate global healthcare systems from the production pause.
Johnson & Johnson is one of the largest Covid vaccine suppliers to the African Union and to COVAX, a program aimed at improving global access to vaccines. For some low- and middle-income countries, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is the only option, said Johnson & Johnson executive Dr. Penny Heaton.
The company suffered delays in sending tens of millions of doses to South Africa in mid-2021, contributing to devastating outbreaks as the delta variant surged. Africa has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the world, with Eritrea, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad all reporting less than 1% vaccination.
Africa’s lagging vaccination rates are caused both by low supply and by the inadequacy of local medical infrastructure, World Health Organization vaccines director Kate O’Brien told NPR.