Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A healthcare workers holds vials of vaccine

A healthcare worker holds vials containing doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine on February 18, 2021 in South Africa. (Photo:  Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

'Activism Works': EU to Return Covid Vaccines to Africa After Backlash

"We can and must overcome greedy pharma and selfish rich governments' business as usual."

Jake Johnson

The European Union has agreed to return to Africa millions of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine doses that were shipped out of the continent under a contract arrangement that drew widespread backlash from vaccine equity campaigners and African officials.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, the South Africa-based pharmaceutical giant Aspen "has a contract with J&J to fill into vials and package the U.S. company's vaccine, with some 40% of its production slated for export to Europe through September and the rest going to African countries."

When the details of the contract first emerged last month, Fatima Hassan of the South Africa-based Health Justice Initiative called the agreement "the sickening result of the free market in a pandemic—while Africa waits for supplies and gets a drip feed, more vaccine stock is diverted to Europe."

But Strive Masiyiwa, head of the African Union's Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, said Thursday that the "arrangement has been suspended." Masiyiwa said less than 20 million doses were exported to the E.U. under the deal.

"All the vaccines from this facility are now under the control of the South African government," he added.

The People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 70 international public health and human rights organizations, called the suspension of the agreement "a step in the right direction" and said that "African manufacturers should be allowed to produce for Africans."

"Activism works! We can and must overcome greedy pharma and selfish rich governments' business as usual," the coalition tweeted. "We need a people's vaccine."

According to the latest data, just 11% of South Africa's population—and less than 3% of the total population of the African continent—has been fully vaccinated. By contrast, around 70% of adults in the E.U. have been fully inoculated against Covid-19.

"In Africa, the issue is vaccine supply," Masiyiwa said Thursday. "Even if there are loud noises about vaccine hesitancy—and we will not dismiss it—but let’s get to 60%, OK, and then we worry about the 40%."

"But if 60% of our population right now are happy to take the vaccine," he added, "let's give it to them."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'When We Fight, We Win!' San Francisco Airport Workers End Strike After Pay Victory

"This strike was so worth it to give my family a better life," said one union member.

Jake Johnson ·


US Gas Flaring Releases Five Times More Methane Than Previously Thought

"This study adds to the growing body of research that tells us that the oil and gas industry has a flaring problem," said Jon Goldstein of EDF, which conducted related research on the practice.

Jessica Corbett ·


Activists Call Fed Pilot Program to Assess Banks' Climate Risk a 'Welcome First Step'

"To truly safeguard financial stability," said one campaigner, "the Fed must further introduce policies that reflect the high risk of fossil fuel investments."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Gut Punch': Biden Pulls Student Debt Relief for Millions as GOP States Sue

"The Biden administration told several million people they'd see their debt reduced by $10-20K, and a month later quietly wrote 'just kidding' on a website," said one affected borrower.

Brett Wilkins ·


Controlled by Right-Wing Justices, US Supreme Court's Approval Hits All-Time Low

"This is what happens when SCOTUS nominees lie about settled law at their nomination hearings," said one observer.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo