South Africa Donates 2M Doses of J&J Vaccine to African Nations Where Few Are Vaccinated

South Africa plans to donate a little over two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines to other African countries in an effort to up vaccination rates on the world's least vaccinated continent. The government announced the initiative worth roughly $18 million on Friday, saying that it plans to distribute the doses over the next year.

"This donation embodies South Africa's solidarity with our brothers and sisters on the continent with whom we are united in fighting an unprecedented threat to public health and economic prosperity," President Cyril Ramaphosa said in the statement.

"The only way in which we can prevent COVID-19 transmission and protect economies and societies on our continent is to successfully immunize a critical mass of the African population with safe and effective vaccines," he added.

Out of Africa's 54 countries, only 20 have at least 10 percent of their populations fully vaccinated, and the World Health Organization said that 10 are currently at less than 2 percent. The WHO projects that Africa may not be able to meet a 70 percent vaccination goal until the second half of 2024.

The donation from South Africa will boost the over 100 million vaccines already donated to the African Union's African Vaccination Acquisition Trust, a vaccination group that has made its own purchase of 500 million doses for distribution.

But the safety of the one-dose J&J vaccines South Africa plans to donate has been called into question in recent days. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has adjusted its guidance to recommend mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna over the J&J shot after confirming reports of some recipients experiencing a side effect that causes the formation of blood clots.

The side effect is rare, with 57 confirmed cases of the condition among the millions who received the J&J shot in the U.S. as of Dec. 8, according to the CDC and Food and Drug Administration. Still, the news has increased scrutiny on the vaccine.

Moreover, South African scientists say their data reveals that the Pfizer vaccine offers less protection against the Omicron variant and reduced protection from hospitalization.

Many countries are urging their citizens to get vaccinated or boosters before the holidays.

"Jab before jive!" South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said.

J&J Vaccine Donations
South Africa plans to donate a little over two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines to other African countries in an effort to up vaccination rates on the world's least vaccinated continent. Above, a health worker prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as part of the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 at Rodriguez wholesale market on August 25, 2021, in La Paz, Bolivia. Gaston Brito/Getty Images

The doses will be produced at the Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing facility in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, according to a statement.

Ramaphosa is "making good progress in his recovery from COVID-19 while continuing treatment for mild symptoms," his office said in a separate statement Friday. Ramaphosa, 69, tested positive for COVID-19 on December 12 and has been isolated at the official residence in Cape Town since then, with treatment by the South African military health service.

Ramaphosa is "in good spirits and comfortable in his recovery," the statement said.

South Africa is currently battling the resurgence of the coronavirus fueled by the Omicron variant. South Africa recorded 24,785 new infections and 36 deaths in the most recent 24-hour reporting cycle. The country's seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen steeply over the past two weeks from 8.59 new cases per 100,000 people on December 2 to 39.11 new cases per 100,000 people on December 16.

More than 78 percent of the new cases are from the Omicron variant, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said in a briefing Friday.

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have increased somewhat but not at rates comparable to the sharp upward curve of new cases, health experts said. In South Africa, omicron has so far resulted in more mild cases than the previous wave, driven by the delta variant, according to health experts. The population's exposure to the coronavirus, as shown by blood tests for be at 72 percent, could be contributing to the less severe symptoms from Omicron, experts said Friday.

Despite the increased number of COVID-19 cases, the government hasn't announced an increase in restrictions.

In contrast to many other African countries, South Africa now has adequate supplies of vaccine doses, estimated at 19 million, but the number of people getting vaccinated has slowed dramatically. Just 12,500 shots were given Thursday, according to official figures, down from an average of about 120,000 per day in November.

More than 15 million South Africans are fully vaccinated, representing 38 percent of the adult population, according to official statistics.

"We are very worried about the drastic decline in the uptake of vaccinations, especially in the last seven to 10 days," Health Minister Joe Phaahla said in a media briefing Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Omicron Analysis
An analysis of data from South Africa, where the new variant is driving a surge in infections, suggests the Pfizer vaccine offers less defense against infection from omicron and reduced, but still good, protection from hospitalization. Sandile Cele, a researcher at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, works on the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus on December 15, 2021. Jerome Delay/AP Photo