The African Union Thursday announced the start of monthly shipments of vaccines it acquired via the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to the Member States.
An initiative by the AU Member States to pool their purchasing power, the AVAT, on 28 March 2021, had signed the historic 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.
While announcing the rollout, AU Chair and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for the first pooled procurement given that as a single-shot vaccine, it is easier and cheaper to administer; and that the vaccine has a long shelf-life and favourable storage conditions.
“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.” President Ramaphosa said
He also noted that the vaccine is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa.
“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.” He said
According to Ramaphosa, the first monthly shipments will arrive in several Member States, and shipments will continue for a total of 6.4m doses shipped in August. He said 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 (AMSP), UNICEF is providing logistical and delivery services to the Member States.” He said
The AU chair said the vaccine acquisition is a unique milestone for the African continent for the reason that 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.” He said
He further indicated that international donors have committed to deliver the remaining half of the doses required through the COVAX initiative.
African Union Special Envoy Strive Masiyiwa said the delivery of the 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 immunizing 60 percent 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.” He said
On his part, Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), noted that the doses landed at the right time given that during the last months, the continent has witnessed a widening vaccination gap when compared to other parts of the world, ‘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.” He said
The agreement with Johnson & Johnson was made possible through a USD 2 billion facility provided by African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), who are also the Financial and Transaction Advisers, Guarantors, Instalment Payment facility providers and Payment Agents.
Prof. Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Afreximbank, admitted that the very low access to vaccines has exposed Africa to devastating third and fourth waves of COVID-19. He decried rising death rates and the increasingly vulnerable nature of economies.
“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 to the historic procurement of vaccines by AVAT. We look forward to better days ahead for our people through this effort.” He 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,” said Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
World Bank Managing Director of Operations Axel van Trotsenburg acknowledged the Africa Union’s tireless efforts in bringing COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, terming it an important milestone.
“The World Bank is very pleased to be part of the AU campaign to get the African continent vaccinated, including by helping finance the purchases of the needed doses and supporting the administration of the shots.” He said