J&J pushes Latin America to take unfrozen vaccines during Covax talks

Johnson & Johnson has pushed Latin America to accept shipments of unfrozen Covid-19 vaccines that some countries may not be able to fully deploy before they expire, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

Jarbas Barbosa, deputy director of PAHO, told the Financial Times that J&J is requesting that the doses be shipped at refrigerator temperature rather than frozen, as required by the World Health Organization.

The WHO emergency use authorization for the J&J vaccine states that the vaccine should be administered to between -25C and -15C, a temperature at which it has a shelf life of two years. Once thawed, the doses should be used within three months.

PAHO is the WHO regional office for the Americas and is in discussions with J&J for vaccine delivery under the multilateral Covax program.

“Everyone wants to reach an agreement as quickly as possible, but we cannot accept the vaccines that countries do not have time to use,” said Barbosa. “In some circumstances, you can accept 10 percent or 15 percent of shipments with a shorter retention period. But our recommendation is that countries should only accept it at -20 ° C. “

Barbosa said J&J had been “aggressive” in its supply negotiations and suggested the company was looking to offload doses that it might not otherwise be able to use. “Maybe they have vaccines that weren’t already frozen and they want to deliver them through Covax,” he said.

J & J’s adenovirus vaccine is initially stored frozen by the manufacturer and thawed before use. The single dose, which the company has pledged to sell at cost during the pandemic, was eagerly awaited. But concerns about rare side effects, similar to blood clots linked to the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, have dampened demand for the vaccine in the EU and the US.

J&J declined to answer specific questions about the negotiations. In a statement, he said he had pledged to allocate doses of 500 million to the poorest countries and that his easily transportable single-injection vaccine “proved protection against multiple variants” and could be “a tool. essential ”in the fight against Covid.

“We continue to work closely, collaboratively and urgently with global health authorities and organizations and have a common goal to end the pandemic,” the company said.

A number of Latin American countries, including Brazil, are grappling with difficult waves of Covid infection, and much of the developing world is facing a crippling vaccine shortage.

Most countries in the region have the capacity to store vaccines at around -20 ° C, at least in major cities, due to their experience with polio vaccination campaigns, a person familiar with the matter said. Delivering frozen vaccines would mean governments would have more time to ensure all doses were distributed and administered before they expired, the person said.

PAHO remained “in talks” with J&J and still hoped to resolve the issue before finalizing the Covax contract next week, Barbosa said. As part of the deal, agreed in principle in December, J&J will deliver 200 million doses to Covax for worldwide distribution in the second half of 2021.

Barbosa added that negotiations for the purchase of vaccines with many pharmaceutical groups had been difficult. Companies have often demanded onerous protections for unforeseen side effects and no penalties for any manufacturing delays, he said.

“Marketing is very lopsided,” he said. “Businesses ask for things that would normally be unacceptable.”

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