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A health care worker loads a syringe with a dose of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, in Buffalo, West Virginia, on March 26, 2021.STEPHEN ZENNER/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson will supply the African Union (AU) with up to 400 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine beginning in the third quarter, the drugmaker said on Monday, as the continent grapples with vaccinating 60 per cent of its people.

Coronavirus has killed almost 121,000 people across Africa and infected 4.18 million.

J&J unit Janssen Pharmaceutica NV has entered into a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to deliver 220 million doses of its single-dose shot.

AVAT could order an additional 180 million doses through 2022.

André Picard: AstraZeneca is a good vaccine, but a public relations failure

Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson: Which COVID-19 vaccine will I get in Canada?

Canada pre-purchased millions of doses of seven different vaccine types, and Health Canada has approved four so far for the various provincial and territorial rollouts. All the drugs are fully effective in preventing serious illness and death, though some may do more than others to stop any symptomatic illness at all (which is where the efficacy rates cited below come in).

PFIZER-BIONTECH

  • Also known as: Comirnaty
  • Approved on: Dec. 9, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 95 per cent with both doses in patients 16 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 15-year-olds
  • Traits: Must be stored at -70 C, requiring specialized ultracold freezers. It is a new type of mRNA-based vaccine that gives the body a sample of the virus’s DNA to teach immune systems how to fight it. Health Canada has authorized it for use in people as young as 12.

MODERNA

  • Also known as: SpikeVax
  • Approved on: Dec. 23, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 94 per cent with both doses in patients 18 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 17-year-olds
  • Traits: Like Pfizer’s vaccine, this one is mRNA-based, but it can be stored at -20 C. It’s approved for use in Canada for ages 12 and up.

OXFORD-ASTRAZENECA

  • Also known as: Vaxzevria
  • Approved on: Feb. 26, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 62 per cent two weeks after the second dose
  • Traits: This comes in two versions approved for Canadian use, the kind made in Europe and the same drug made by a different process in India (where it is called Covishield). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest guidance is that its okay for people 30 and older to get it if they can’t or don’t want to wait for an mRNA vaccine, but to guard against the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder, all provinces have stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

  • Also known as: Janssen
  • Approved on: March 5, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 66 per cent two weeks after the single dose
  • Traits: Unlike the other vaccines, this one comes in a single injection. NACI says it should be offered to Canadians 30 and older, but Health Canada paused distribution of the drug for now as it investigates inspection concerns at a Maryland facility where the active ingredient was made.

How many vaccine doses do I get?

All vaccines except Johnson & Johnson’s require two doses, though even for double-dose drugs, research suggests the first shots may give fairly strong protection. This has led health agencies to focus on getting first shots to as many people as possible, then delaying boosters by up to four months. To see how many doses your province or territory has administered so far, check our vaccine tracker for the latest numbers.

The deal follows months of negotiations with the AU, which announced a provisional agreement in January to buy 270 million doses of vaccines from J&J, AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech.

The status of the talks with the other two companies is not known.

J&J’s vaccine came to the market much later than those of AstraZeneca and Pfizer but has recently gained widespread acceptance globally, especially in Africa.

“J&J requires just a single dose, it makes it a very good programmatically to rollout,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said the price of the J&J’s dose is likely to be $10.

In February, South Africa put use of AstraZeneca’s shot on hold after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country’s dominant variant.

Several countries in Europe have suspended using AstraZeneca’s vaccine as they investigate a small number of reports of rare blood clotting in people who got the vaccine. Global regulators have said the shot is safe and effective.

Pfizer’s shot has more complex storage and transportation needs than other vaccines, making it more challenging to deploy in warmer climates or in poorer countries.

AVAT said on Monday that many of the AU’s 55 member states had shown a strong preference for J&J.

Africa is also grappling with a more-infectious variant identified in South Africa amid concerns about delays of deliveries of AstraZeneca shots via the COVAX scheme which is aimed at supplying poorer countries.

The continent is far behind nations, including Israel, the United States and Britain in its vaccination rollout. Almost half of Britons have received their first dose, while in contrast only 0.4 per cent of South Africa’s population has received one dose.

“We need to immunize at least 60 per cent of our population in order to get rid of the virus from our continent. The J&J agreement enables us to move towards achieving this target,” Nkengasong said.

Most of the supplies will be produced by Aspen Pharma in South Africa, AVAT said in a statement.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday that South Africa will get 30 million vaccines from Aspen’s facility while a total roughly 250 million will be distributed across the continent from the facility.

Aspen has contracted with J&J to manufacture 300 million doses.

As part of the AU vaccine plan, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has approved up to $2-billion in finance for countries to buy shots via the AU.

Europe approved J&J’s single dose vaccine earlier this month. The United States, Canada and Bahrain have also approved the shot.

Late last year, J&J said it and the GAVI vaccine alliance expected to enter into a deal that would provide up to 500 million doses of the vaccine to COVAX through 2022.

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