Africa Union has announced the start of monthly shipments of COVID-19 vaccines acquired by the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to the AU Member States.
AVAT is an initiative by the AU Member States to pool their purchasing power, which 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.
A statement from the Union said “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.”
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.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, was quoted as saying: “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 first monthly shipments were expected to arrive in several Member States, and 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 50m 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.
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.
This 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 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.
African Union Special Envoy, Strive Masiyiwa, 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.”
Also commenting, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, 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.”
President and Chairman of the Board of Afreximbank, Prof. Benedict Oramah, was quoted: “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 to the historic procurement of vaccines by AVAT. We look forward to better days ahead for our people through this effort.”
“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, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
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.
“Africa can create over 5 million more jobs if more health commodities are manufactured on the continent. Regular technical meetings of the African Ministers of Finance, who collaborated in an unprecedented manner to make today possible, were coordinated by UNECA.”
This vaccine acquisition and deployment is said to be 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 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources to allow countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million people across Africa.
On his part, World Bank Managing Director of Operations, Axel van Trotsenburg, said: “Today marks an important milestone in the AU’s tireless efforts in bringing COVID-19 vaccines to Africa. 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.”