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‘Quad’ nations agree to send a billion vaccines across Asia by end-2022; WHO approves J&J vaccine for emergency use

New Delhi, India

Leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan agreed to pool financing, manufacturing and distribution capacity to send one billion coronavirus vaccines across Asia by the end of 2022, India’s Foreign Secretary said on Friday.

The so-called “Quad” group of four nations want to expand global vaccinations and counter China’s growing vaccination diplomacy in South-East Asia and around the world. India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker.

Quad meeting 12 Mar 2021

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Prime Minister, speaks while a monitor displays US President Joe Biden, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) meeting at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, 12th March. PICTURE: Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via Reuters.

The collaboration was “most pressing and valuable”, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told a news conference in India’s capital New Delhi after the four-way virtual summit.

“The four countries have agreed to a plan to pool their financial resources, manufacturing capabilities and capacities, and logistical strengths so as to ramp up the manufacturing and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said. 

“We believe this will speed up the process of post-pandemic recovery and enable families and businesses to put the COVID-19 crisis behind them.”

India will use its manufacturing capacity to make US vaccines, with financing coming from the US International Development Finance Corporation and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Australia will finance training and provide last-mile logistical support for the distribution of vaccines, he added, that will predominantly go to the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and countries in the Indian Ocean.

The initiative, however, may be hampered by US export restrictions on critical raw materials for India’s vaccine supply chain.

Shringla said the issue is a bilateral one with the United States that has been raised by India’s ambassador in Washington.

“Consideration is being given to this very important point,” he said, without elaborating.

The tie-up will not impact the production of vaccines for India’s 1.4 billion people, Shringla added.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday approved the emergency listing of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, giving its seal of approval to expedite use especially in countries with weaker regulatory agencies. 

It is the third COVID-19 vaccine after the two-shot regimens of Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca to receive backing from the WHO, and the first requiring just a single injection.

The listing covers use in all countries, for roll-out of the vaccine facility COVAX and follows the European Medicines Agency authorisation announcement on Thursday.

“Every new, safe and effective tool against COVID-19 is another step closer to controlling the pandemic,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

“Emergency use listing is the greenlight for a vaccine to be procured and rolled out by COVAX,” he told a news conference.

WHO is convening its strategic advisory group of immunisation experts next week to draw up recommendations on its use, he added. 

“But the hope offered by these tools will not materialise unless they are made available to all people in all countries,” he said.

The WHO also welcomed the one-shot administration as facilitating vaccination logistics. 

WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which does not require an ultra cold chain, was “even better suited to some of the countries that are worst-hit, affected by the pandemic”.

COVAX, co-run with the Gavi vaccine alliance, has an agreement for more than 500 million doses of the J&J vaccine, Aylward said.

“What we are trying to do is work with the company to bring that forward as early as possible. And we are hoping by at least July that we have access to doses that we can be rolling out, if not even earlier.”

J&J’s chief scientist Paul Stoffels told Reuters on Thursday the company expects to produce up to three billion doses of the vaccine next year, after previously pledging to deliver one billion globally by the end of 2021.

The WHO said that, under an emergency-use listing, companies have to commit to generate further safety and efficacy data to enable full licensing.

– With STEPHANIE NEBEHAY and EMMA FARGE in Geneva, Switzerland, LUDWIG BURGER in Frankfurt, Germany, and MICHAEL SHIELDS



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