The African Union (AU), through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (Avatt), has secured 270-million vaccine doses to supply African countries, with at least 50-million doses available for April to June 2021.
Avatt, a 10-member team drawn from across the continent, was established in August 2020 by AU chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa to ensure that the continent could secure sufficient vaccine doses to achieve herd immunity.
The vaccines will be supplied by Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through independent licensee, the Serum Institute of India) and Johnson & Johnson.
“From the onset of this pandemic, our focus as a continent has been on collaboration and collective effort. We have held steadfastly to the principle that no country should be left behind. With this in mind, we have not only campaigned vigorously for changes through all the available international forums, but we have taken the additional step to independently secure vaccines using our own limited resources as member States,” Ramaphosa said.
Arrangements have been made with financial service company African Export–Import Bank (Afreximbank) to support member States that want to access these vaccines based on a ‘whole-of-Africa’ approach.
Members States will secure orders with Afreximbank, which will provide advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2-billion to the manufacturers on behalf of member States.
Once vaccines are delivered, member States may pay using internal resources or access an instalment payment facility of up to five years offered by Afreximbank.
Ramaphosa outlined the close collaboration between the AU team and the World Bank to ensure that member States are able to access about US$5-billion either to buy more vaccines or pay for delivery of vaccines committed on their behalf by Afreximbank.
“These endeavours aim to supplement the COVAX efforts and to ensure that as many dosages of vaccine as possible become available throughout Africa as soon as possible. It is hoped that donors will step up further and ensure that more vaccines are provided through COVAX, as any new debt burden on member States is difficult in the long term,” Ramaphosa said.
While the COVAX initiative is vital to Africa’s response, the AU is concerned that COVAX volumes to be released between February and June might not extend beyond the needs of frontline healthcare workers and might not be enough to contain the ever-increasing toll of the pandemic in Africa.
Another challenge concerning the AU is that the target of 600-million doses from COVAX will only cover about 300-million people across the African continent, which is only about 20% of the population.
Scientists at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have advised that at least 60% of the population needs to be reachee to substantially slow the spread of the disease, and as a result, the Avatt team is engaging other suppliers to secure more vaccines.
Ramaphosa said, given the virulent nature of the pandemic, a threat to one nation and continent is a threat to all and called for urgent and equitable access to the vaccine.
“I wish to commend the members of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, Afreximbank, Africa CDC and all those who have been working tirelessly to secure these vaccines for the people of Africa. There is a long road ahead, but as Africa we are now seeing progress in our shared effort to defeat this disease,” he ended.