The African Union on Thursday began monthly shipments of COVID-19 vaccines acquired by the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust to its member states.
President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, said this in a statement on Thursday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
Ramaphosa said it was a momentous step 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 .”
AVAT, an initiative of AU member states to pool their purchasing power, on March 28, signed the historic agreement for purchase of 220 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) single-shot COVID-19 vaccine.
It also has the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.
“On Aug. 5, the first monthly shipments will arrive in several member states and shipments will continue for a total of 6.4 million doses 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 bank said that by January 2022, the number of vaccines being released would be in excess of 25 million per month.
It added that in collaboration with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) UNICEF was 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, 400 million vaccines are sufficient to immunise a third of the African people and bring Africa halfway toward 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 stated.
The bank said it was significant that the vaccine doses were being produced on the African continent, at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Gqeberha, South Africa.
It added that it was part of concerted efforts 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.
According to it, the J&J vaccine was selected for the first pooled procurement for three reasons.
“First, as a single-shot vaccine, it is easier and cheaper to administer, second, the vaccine has a long shelf-life and favourable storage conditions.
“Lastly, the vaccine is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa.”
AU Special Envoy, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa, said delivering the AU’s first doses to member states was 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.
“J&J AVAT-purchased single-shot vaccines will enable us to considerably improve our vaccination level across the continent .”
Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr. John Nkengasong, said that in the past few months, the organisation had seen the vaccination gap between Africa and other parts of the world widen, and a devastating third wave hit the continent.
He, however, said that the deliveries starting now, would help the continent get to the vaccination levels necessary to protect African lives and livelihoods.
President of Afreximbank, Prof. Benedict Oramah, said that the very low access to vaccines had exposed Africa to a devastating third and fourth waves of COVID-19.
He said that death rates were rising and economies were becoming increasingly vulnerable.
“We are encouraged by the successful commencement of this vaccine rollout, 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 for our people through this effort.”
UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Dr, Vera Songwe, said it was a proud moment for the continent.
She added that the vaccines were a true testament that local production and pooled procurement, as envisioned in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) were key to attainment of a more sustainable post-COVID economic recovery across the continent.
According to her, Africa can create over five million more jobs, if more health commodities are manufactured on the continent.
The vaccine acquisition and deployment is supported by an innovative partnership between the World Bank, the AU and African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) to expedite access to vaccines throughout the continent.
Through the partnership, the World Bank is supporting the AVATT initiative with resources to allow countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million people across Africa.
The agreement with J&J was made possible through a two billion dollar facility, provided by Afreximbank who were also the Financial and Transaction Advisers, Guarantors, Instalment Payment facility providers and Payment Agents.