US will distribute Johnson & Johnson vaccine in conflict zones, Blinken says

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday the U.S. had negotiated a deal between Johnson & Johnson and the COVAX vaccine-sharing program to distribute the company’s COVID-19 vaccine to people living in conflict zones.

In a statement to the press given at the opening of a virtual meeting of global foreign ministers, Blinken said the world needs to ensure that people everywhere can access vaccines and that “those who cannot be reached by government vaccination campaigns” are included in those efforts. 

“The United States has helped broker an agreement between Johnson & Johnson and COVAX to facilitate the first delivery of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses to people living in conflict zones and other humanitarian settings,” Blinken said. “We are committed to helping people in these difficult circumstances to get protection against COVID-19 as soon as possible.” 

A senior administration official told Reuters on Wednesday that 300,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine would be made available to front-line humanitarian workers and United Nations peacekeepers under the deal, though officials reportedly did not provide a total number of doses that would be delivered, when and to which countries.

Secretary Antony Blinken during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Nov. 10, 2021. 
(REUTERS/Leah Millis/Pool)

Notably, Johnson & Johnson has faced manufacturing problems due to contamination and other issues over the past year.

Blinken said the leaders had discussed the shared commitment to expand the provision of vaccines to meet goals laid out by the World Health Organization (WHO), how to address systemic challenges exposed by the pandemic, and the need to expand the production of vaccines and vital medical supplies. 

He said the U.S. had invested in that expansion and would continue to support the effort “as well as what is needed to strengthen, govern and sustain an effective global health security architecture.”

According to Blinken, the U.S. has donated – in partnership with the WHO-co-led COVAX or bilaterally – more than 234 million vaccine doses to more than 100 countries and economies around the world.

“We are well on our way to delivering on our commitment to donate 1.1 billion safe, effective and free COVID-19 vaccines doses with no political strings attached,” he said. “While these efforts are important steps, we must do more.”

Blinken also said Global COVID Corps would provide pro bono expertise, tools and capabilities to support logistics and vaccination efforts in low- and middle-income countries and touted the launch of the Global COVID-19 Access Tracker.

President Biden previously pledged that Washington would buy 500 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses to donate.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, said Wednesday that at least 550 million additional doses would be needed to reach the organization’s goal of vaccinating 40% of the population of every country by year’s end, according to The New York Times.

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