Speaking to reporters yesterday Dr Ghebreyesus told reporters just 10 countries had administered 75 percent of their populations, while low-income countries have vaccinated barely two percent of theirs. He said: “I called for a temporary moratorium on boosters to help shift supply to those countries that have not even been able to vaccinate their health workers and at-risk communities and are now experiencing major spikes.
“The divide between the haves and have nots will only grow larger if manufacturers and leaders prioritise booster shots oversupply to low- and middle-income countries,” said the world health chief.
COVID-19 was evolving, he warned, stressing it was not in anyone’s interests to focus what he called “narrow nationalistic goals”.
He added: “In this context, I was stunned by the news that J&J (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines fill and finished in South Africa are leaving the continent and going to Europe, where virtually all adults have been offered vaccines at this point.
Earlier this month, Dr Ghebreyesus urged a freeze on booster jabs against COVID-19 until the end of next month to enable at least 10 percent of the global population to get vaccinated.
The EU’s deal will see a plant in South Africa used to bottle J&J vaccines which will then be imported into the EU.
The news was reported by the New York Times on Monday, confirming earlier public statements from South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and from the South African drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare, which bottles the J&J jabs.
A European Commission spokesman told reporters on Thursday the agreement with South Africa, which he described as “temporary”, was reached after J&J faced problems in producing vaccines in the United States at a factory belonging to its partner Emergent Biosolutions.
Under the deal, Aspen Pharmacare bottles the vaccine substance produced elsewhere and then transfers the finished doses to South Africa and the EU.
A J&J factory in Leiden, in the Netherlands, is a major producer of its vaccine substance for COVID-19 shots worldwide.
From September, J&J will transfer all bottling operations for vaccines directed to the EU to Leiden, the EU spokesperson said.
J&J was not immediately available for a comment.
The Aspen plant does not appear among the manufacturing sites approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for J&J vaccines, meaning the shots cannot be used in the EU, although they may be re-exported.
EMA was not immediately available for a comment.
The EU Commission did not respond to questions about what EU countries will do with J&J doses imported from South Africa.
EU nations are the owners of vaccines and decide how to use them.
Public EU data show that J&J has delivered, as of Thursday, 21.5 million doses to the EU. It was supposed to ship 55 million already by the end of June.
Of the delivered doses, just 12.9 million, or about 60 percent, have been administered in the EU, public data show, by far the lowest take-up among all EU-approved vaccines, which have a usage rate of at least 75 percent, and above 90 percent for the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.
Many EU countries have stopped using J&J over health concerns.
The EU has promised to donate at least 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to poorer nations, mostly in Africa, by the end of the year.
According to the Our World In Data website, 54.75 percent of people living within the EU27 have had two coronavirus vaccine doses, lower than the UK’s figure of 60.38 percent.