By Mary Hearty
The African Union has commenced the monthly shipment of 200 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccines which was acquired by the AU- African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to its Member States.
This initiative comes after the historic agreement signed by the AU Member States to purchase 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines on 28 March 2021, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for this first pooled procurement because; it is a single-shot vaccine, which is easier and cheaper to administer; the vaccine has a long shelf-life and favourable storage conditions. Moreover, the vaccine is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa and African Union (AU) COVID-19 Champion 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.”
President Ramaphosa acknowledged that this first monthly shipments will arrive in several Member States, and shipments will continue in August for a total of 6.4m doses. 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 25m 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.
Also, it marks the first time that the AU Member States have collectively purchased vaccines to safeguard the health of the African population – 400m 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.
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.”
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.
Prof. Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Afreximbank, said: “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 in 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,” Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said.
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 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 AVATT initiative with resources to allow countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million people across Africa.
Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Managing Director of Operations, 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.”