The United States is donating 17 million doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union, bringing the total American donation to the continent to 67 million doses.
The U.S. previously donated 50 million doses to the AU, which has 55 member states, including some of the world’s poorest nations. The new tranche of 17 million will be delivered to the African Union in the “coming weeks,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.
“We’re continuing our shared fight against COVID,” Biden said Thursday, during a meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. “The United States, we’ve donated 2.8 million doses of vaccine to Kenya as part of 50 million doses we’ve donated to the African Union. And I’m proud to announce that today, that we’re making additional, historic, one-time donation and 17 more million doses of the J&J vaccine to the AU.”
Kenyatta said the United States “has done its best to step up, in terms of not only helping Kenya, but with the African continent, in general, with regard to access to vaccines.”
The White House said it chose the one-dose vaccine for its unique advantages.
“(The) J&J vaccine is in high demand and short supply in Africa and elsewhere around the world,” the White House said. “Single-dose administration, long shelf life and easy cold chain make this vaccine an asset to global vaccine programs.”
That vaccine has not been as popular in the U.S. as its two-dose counterparts.
Any new vaccines are likely to be welcomed, after the World Health Organization said Thursday that its assessment found that six out of seven COVID-19 infections are not being detected on the African continent. WHO estimates there are 59 million cases in Africa — far more than the reported number of cases, which stands at 8 million.
But health advocates say more needs to be done.
“Speed matters as we fight this pandemic, and Africa urgently needs more doses to stem the overwhelming impacts of COVID-19. This donation is another example of U.S. leadership on the global response and is a step in the right direction in closing the vaccine access gap,” said Sarah Swinehart, senior communications director for North America at the ONE Campaign, a group that advocates to address extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.
“As we continue to work towards the goal of getting 70% of the world vaccinated, all wealthy countries must be bolder and more ambitious. This will require more doses and more money to get those doses into arms.”
The White House has countered criticism over its push for already vaccinated Americans to receive boosters when many people across the planet have yet to receive a single dose.
“With this donation, the U.S. will be giving away over half of the J&J vaccines purchased by the U.S. for its domestic program,” it said in Thursday’s statement.
The announcement coincided with Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with an African leader. Kenyatta met with Biden in the Oval Office to discuss a range of topics, including democracy and human rights issues, as well security, accelerating economic growth and addressing climate change.