African Union begins distribution of 400 million COVID-19 vaccines to member states and the Caribbean

The African Union (AU) today announced the beginning of distribution of 400 million COVID-19 vaccines to to member states and the Caribbean.

The AU said the monthly shipments acquired by the AU African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), an AU initiative to pull together the purchasing power of African countries was activated when, the AVAT, on March 28, 2021, signed an agreement for the purchase of 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.

According to the AU, the agreement with Johnson & Johnson was made possible through a $2 billion facility provided by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), who are also the Financial and Transaction Advisers, Guarantors, Instalment Payment facility providers and Payment Agents.

It indicated further that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for this first pooled procurement for three reasons: first of all, as a single-shot vaccine, it is easier and cheaper to administer; second, the vaccine has a long shelf-life and favourable storage conditions.

“Last but not least, the vaccine is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa,” it added.

Today August 5, the first monthly shipments will arrive in several member states, and shipments will continue for a total of 6.4 million doses shipped in August.

“Monthly shipments will continue and be continually ramped up, with a target of delivering almost 50 million vaccines before the end of December. By January, the number of vaccines being released will be in excess of 25 million per month. In collaboration with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), UNICEF is providing logistical and delivery services to the Member States,” the AU said.

Commenting, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and African Union (AU) COVID-19 Champion, said: “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.”

The 400 million doses, the continental organisation says, 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 indicated.

Worldwide, more than 2.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to more than 480 million people. However, Africa accounts for just about two per cent of the global total of vaccinations.

“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,” said Strive Masiyiwa, African Union Special Envoy.

Dr Vera Songwe, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said: “This is a proud moment for the continent; the vaccines, partly manufactured in South Africa are a true testament that local production and pooled procurement as envisioned in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are key to the attainment of a more sustainable post-Covid economic recovery across the continent.”

In his remarks, Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), 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.”

Prof. Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Afreximbank, said: “The very low access to vaccines has exposed Africa to a devastating third and fourth waves of COVID-19. Death rates are rising and economies are becoming increasingly vulnerable. We are encouraged by the successful commencement of this vaccine roll-out, which will help contain the spread of the virus and protect lives and livelihood. Afreximbank is pleased to have contributed in the historic procurement of vaccines by AVAT. We look forward to better days ahead for our people through this effort.”

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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