ADDIS ABABA – African countries will receive 10 million doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines over the next three months through a new partnership between France and the African Union, the continental bloc announced on Monday.
The African Union’s Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) will be in charge of allocating and distributing the doses, in coordination with the COVAX global vaccine initiative, the AU said in a statement.
“The (Covid-19) pandemic can only be overcome through intense cooperation,” Macron said in the statement that emphasized “our solid partnership” with the AU.
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa and AU COVID-19 Champion, commended France and its president for the contribution.
The doses will help “our continent’s fight against illness and against the unfortunate and avoidable reality of unequal access to vaccines in many regions of the world, including Africa,” he said.
The AVAT initiative was set up as a pooled procurement mechanism for the African Union Member States to be able to buy enough vaccines for at least 50% of their needs. It seeks to provide the other 50% through donations.
The Initiative has already acquired enough doses to vaccinate 400 million people, or one-third of the African population, by September next year, at a cost of $3 billion, according to the AU.
‘Vaccine rollouts affected by Unpredictability’
Many African nations are currently facing challenges planning for rollouts of COVID-19 vaccines because supplies are unpredictable, according to Dr. John Nkengasong, director at the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They are receiving doses in relatively small amounts, often with little warning about when they will arrive or what type of vaccine they will get.
“The biggest challenge is predictability on access to vaccines,” he said during a press briefing on Thursday. “There are about six different vaccines out there, they come in all kinds of forms, and they require different conditions to roll them out. How can you plan?”
The continent is experiencing what Nkengasong describes as a COVID-19 “vaccine famine,” as high-income countries hoarded global supplies, leaving many African countries to weather third and fourth waves of the pandemic, with their health systems overwhelmed with severe cases. Only 2.5% of the continent is fully vaccinated.
COVAX failed to deliver promised doses after its supply chain fell apart in March, but there was an uptick in shipments to African nations in July, as high-income countries began to donate doses after vaccinating substantial portions of their populations.