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UPDATE 1-GAVI signs COVID-19 vaccine supply deal with J&J

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GENEVA, May 21 (Reuters) - The GAVI Vaccine Alliance said on Friday it has agreed to buy 200 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, as it seeks to fill a big shortfall in the COVAX vaccine-sharing programme caused by India suspending exports.

“As a one dose vaccine, the J&J vaccine has particular relevance for places with difficult infrastructure, making it a very important addition to the portfolio,” said GAVI CEO Seth Berkley said in a statement announcing the signing of an advanced purchase agreement with the U.S. drugmaker.

India is unlikely to resume major exports of COVID-19 vaccines until at least October as it diverts supplies of its locally-produced AstraZeneca shot for use at home where it is battling a second wave of the epidemic.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) said that the goal was to have the new J&J doses available in 2021, for distribution to both self-financing participants of COVAX as well as poorer countries.

COVAX aims to secure 2 billion vaccine doses in total for lower-income countries by the end of 2021.

The World Health Organization which runs COVAX with GAVI has called for manufacturers to advance doses for the programme, warning that the disruptions are worsening vaccine inequity.

Reporting by Emma Farge Editing by Caroline Copley & Simon Cameron-Moore

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