The Africa Union has commenced the shipment of 220 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to member countries, the African Export-Import Bank has announced.
The gesture comes under the initiative of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, AVAT, of the AU member states who sealed an agreement in March to pool their purchasing power for the purchase of Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected because it is a single-shot vaccine easier and cheaper to administer; the vaccine has a long shelf-life with favourable storage conditions and is partly manufactured in South Africa.
The cherry news came from the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa who described the development as a momentous step. His words: “This is a momentous step forward in Africa’s efforts to safeguard the health and well-being of its people. By working together and by pooling resources, African countries have been able to secure millions of vaccine doses produced right here in Africa. This will provide impetus to the fight against COVID-19 across the continent and will lay the basis for Africa’s social and economic recovery.”
A statement by the African Export-Import Bank said: “On 5 August, the first monthly shipments will arrive in several countries and shipments will continue for a total of 6.4m doses shipped in August. Monthly shipments will continue and be continually ramped up, with a target of delivering almost 50m vaccines before the end of December. By January, the number of vaccines being released will be in excess of 25m per month. In collaboration with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, UNICEF is providing logistical and delivery services to the member states.
“This vaccine acquisition is a unique milestone for the African continent. It is the first time Africa has undertaken a procurement of this magnitude involving all member states. It also marks the first time that the AU Member States have collectively purchased vaccines to safeguard the health of the African population – 400m vaccines are sufficient to immunise a third of the African people and bring Africa halfway towards its continental goal of vaccinating at least 60 per cent of the population. International donors have committed to deliver the remaining half of the doses required through the COVAX initiative.
“It is significant that these vaccine doses are being produced on the African continent at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Gqeberha in South Africa. This is part of the concerted effort by African countries to rally the world to support the TRIPS waiver for technology transfer and active pharmaceutical ingredients to develop our own manufacturing capabilities.”
Mr Strive Masiyiwa, African Union Special Envoy, said: “Delivering our first doses to African Union Member States is an unprecedented milestone. We are deploying relentless efforts to help each Member State to reach its goal of immunising 60 per cent of Africans, as recommended by the Africa CDC. Johnson & Johnson AVAT-purchased single-shot vaccines will enable us to considerably improve our vaccination level across the continent.”
Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said: “During the last months, we have seen the vaccination gap between Africa and other parts of the world widen, and a devastating third wave hit our continent. The deliveries starting now will help us get to the vaccination levels necessary to protect African lives and livelihoods.”
The agreement with Johnson & Johnson was made possible through a USD 2 billion facility provided by African Export-Import Bank, acting as the financial and transaction advisers, guarantors, instalment payment facility providers and payment agents.
This vaccine acquisition and deployment is supported by an innovative partnership between the World Bank and the AU, African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to expedite access to vaccines throughout the continent. Through this partnership, the World Bank is supporting the AVAT initiative with resources to allow countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million people across Africa.