We were excited when Johnson & Johnson announced that it would start producing its single-dose vaccine in Gqeberha, through a partnership with Aspen. We believed this signalled the end of vaccine apartheid, which saw the African continent left out of the global vaccination drive. However, according to a New York Times exposé, we appear to have been taken for a ride. It turns out that nearly 10 million vaccines already produced in Gqeberha have been siphoned out of the continent into Europe, making their way to Germany and Spain. Developed nations are accused of stockpiling vaccines. Meanwhile, countries on the continent are desperately far behind: Uganda, for instance, has vaccinated only 1,7 million of its population of 44 million people.
In July, the European Union announced that over 70% of its population had already received at least one vaccine jab. Health activists on the continent accuse pharmaceutical giants of using colonial tactics against Africa – not just because of purely extractive practices like J&J’s, but also because of the secrecy involved in the contracts between national health departments and pharmaceutical companies. More transparent contracts would allow for public pressure against exploitative practices. Activists have long fought this issue. In response to the latest outrage, Aspen says that all vaccines produced in the fourth quarter of 2021 will be for African use.