Panafrican News Agency

Coronavirus: AU begins monthly shipments of vaccines

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) – The African Union (AU) is on Thursday beginning its monthly shipments of vaccines acquired by the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to Member States.

A statement by the AU said this was announced by South African President and AU COVID-19 Champion Cyril Ramaphosa.

AVAT, an initiative by the AU Member States to pool their purchasing power, on 28 March 2021, 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.

The statement said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for this first pooled procurement for three reasons.

These are as a single-shot vaccine, it is easier and cheaper to administer; second, the vaccine has a long shelf-life and favourable storage conditions and third, it is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa.

"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," the AU said.

President Ramaphosa 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 statement said 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.

The AU said by January, the number of vaccines being released will be in excess of 25 million per month.

The statement said in collaboration with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), 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."

The AU said it also marks the first time that the Member States have collectively purchased vaccines to safeguard the health of the African population. 

It added that 400 million 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.

The statement said 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 (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.”

-0- PANA MA/AR 5Aug2021