South Africa Accuses J&J of Unreasonable Vaccine Demands

South Africa is facing delays to coronavirus-vaccine supplies because of “unreasonable terms” being demanded by manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson in return for delivering millions of much-needed doses, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.

The government has been notified by J&J that the company won’t sign off on the order agreed last month until it receives greater assurance of support from the state, Mkhize told lawmakers Wednesday, without being more specific.

“We have been taken aback by this as there are clauses in the agreement that express this support,” he said. “I mention this to demonstrate to members some of the difficult and sometimes unreasonable terms and preconditions that we have had to navigate through.”

J&J didn’t immediately reply to emailed request for comment.

The impasse threatens to further delay a vaccine program that lags not just richer countries like the U.S. and the U.K., but also some other African nations. The government’s order for 30 million J&J doses is intended to make up a significant portion of a target to inoculate about two-thirds of the population, with the version made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE the only other one due to arrive.

An earlier plan to partially rely on the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc was shelved after a trial showed limited effect preventing mild illness from a coronavirus variant found in the country late last year.

Pfizer Disagreement

The dispute with J&J follows an earlier one with Pfizer that related to the U.S. drugmaker’s demand to be indemnified from any claims made against it in the country. That disagreement has now been resolved, and South Africa is due to start receiving 20 million doses of that version next month.

Pfizer had demanded that the health and finance ministers personally sign the agreement to give more weight to the indemnity, according to a letter between the ministers seen by Bloomberg. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni did not accede to the demand, the National Treasury said.

One issue that South Africa has had with vaccine manufacturers relates to patents. The country, with support from others including India, is pushing for drugmakers to make the intellectual property that prevents mass production of doses more freely available. The pharmaceutical companies are largely opposed to this to maintain future revenue and profit streams.

Separately, Mkhize said late Tuesday South Africa has halted the rollout of J&J vaccines after U.S. health agencies made the same call, citing concerns about rare and severe blood clotting side effects.

“We hope that the deliberations will only take a few days,” he told reporters.

J&J last year agreed with Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. that Africa’s biggest drugmaker could manufacture its vaccine at a plant in South Africa.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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