ADDIS ABABA – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday the start of monthly shipments of millions of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine doses, acquired by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), to member States of African Union (AU).
President Ramaphosa described the start of the shipments as “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,” he said.
– African initiative –
Ramaphosa chairs the AVAT Team of Africans, established in August, 2020 to secure COVID-19 vaccine doses to achieve herd immunity as per the Africa Vaccine Strategy that was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government.
Seven months after its establishment, the AVETT managed to sign a deal 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 agreement was made possible through a USD 2 billion facility provided by African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), helping, for the first time, AU Member States collectively purchase vaccines to safeguard the health of their people.
“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,” said President Ramaphosa.
On Thursday, the first monthly shipments will arrive in several Member States, with a total of 6.4m doses readied for transfer in August, according to the AVATT.
– Closing vaccination gap –
Monthly shipments will continue and be continually ramped up, with a target of delivering almost 50m vaccines before the end of December, the team says.
By January, the number of vaccines being released will be in excess of 25m per month and to get the vaccination levels in the continent necessary to protect African lives, it says.
At least 400mln vaccines are sufficient to immunize a third of the African people and bring Africa halfway towards its continental goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the population.
International donors have committed to deliver the remaining half of the doses required through the COVAX initiative.
“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,” said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC.
As of August 5, confirmed cases of Covid-19 from 55 African countries reached 6,859,784 while the death toll reached 174,054.
“The deliveries starting now will help us get to the vaccination levels necessary to protect African lives and livelihoods,” he said.
Vaccine rollout in Africa has been punishingly slow due in part to the unavailability of jabs, with wealthy nations accused of hoarding the shots to the detriment of poorer countries.
Less than two percent of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Africa CDC.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for this first pooled procurement for three reasons, according to the AVATT.
The J&J is a single-shot vaccine and easier and cheaper to administer; second, the vaccine has a long shelf-life and favorable storage conditions, the Team reasons.
Lastly, it says the vaccine is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Gqeberha in South Africa.
“This is a proud moment for the continent,” said Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
“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,” she added.
UNICEF is providing logistical and delivery services to the Member States in collaboration with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP).
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