African Union member states will soon have access to 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine. This is according to South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The announcement was made after the signing of an agreement between the Africa Union and pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson for the purchase of the vaccines.
President Rampaphosa hailed the agreement as a vital milestone in African states’ efforts to protect their populations from severe Covid-19 disease, widespread hospitalizations requiring critical care and possible deaths.
“This agreement is a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans. It is also a powerful demonstration of African unity and of what we can achieve through a partnership between the state sector, the private sector and international institutions that put people first,” said President Ramaphosa in Johannesburg on April 12, 2021.
The South African Head of State who chairs the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) made the announcement during a virtual conference on vaccine manufacturing in Africa.
AVAT, which is a 10-member team drawn from across the continent, was established in August 2020 to ensure that the African continent would be able to secure sufficient COVID-19 vaccine doses to achieve herd immunity.
According to President Ramaphosa, most of the supplies will be produced at the giant pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in South Africa operated by Aspen Pharma.
“The Aspen Pharma plant will produce at least 200 million doses of the vaccine for onward distribution to AU member states through the AVAT facility,” said the South African head of state.
The acquisition of the vaccines has been made possible through the African Union-fronted AVAT, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.
AVAT, which was set up in November 2020, secured the vaccine deal after a historic COVID-19 vaccine procurement Agreement signed on 28 March 2021.
The transaction was made possible through the 2 billion USD facility approved by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
Established in October 1993, The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) is a Pan-African multilateral financial institution and trade promotion facility owned by African governments.
Other partners include the African Development Bank, other African multilateral financial institutions as well as African and non-African public and private investors.
Afreximbank also acted as financial and transaction advisers, guarantors, instalment payment advisers and payment agents.
During the agreement’s signing, AU Special Envoy Strive Masiyiwa, signed for AVAT, while Jaak Peeters, Johnson & Johnson Special Envoy for COVID-19 vaccine, signed on behalf of Johnson & Johnson.
The purchase of vaccines by African countries through the AVATT initiative is part of the continental objective to achieve a minimum of 60 per cent immunization of the African population, in order to acquire herd immunity.
Vaccines in Africa
Dr John Nkengasong, who is the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said the jabs would play a pivotal role in arresting the spread of the viral disease and saving lives.
“The Africa CDC recommended to the African Union that a minimum of 750 million Africans or 60 per cent of the population must be immunized if we are to contain the spread of COVID-19. This transaction enables Africa to meet almost 5half or 50 per cent of that target. The key to this particular vaccine is that it is a single-shot vaccine which makes it easier to roll out quickly and effectively, thus saving lives,” said Dr Nkengansong.
The African target corresponds with those set in other regions such as Europe and the United States.
International donors have pledged to provide the remaining 27 per cent of required vaccines through the COVAX Initiative, coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO).
Other partners that made the conclusion of the agreement possible include the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), who supported the negotiation process with Johnson & Johnson.
UNICEF is also acting as a procurement and logistics agent. The World Health Organization (WHO also supported the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) in various advisory aspects.
Prior to the conclusion of the agreement with Johnson & Johnson, African Member States were asked to make pre-orders for the vaccines, with many countries including Kenya showing a strong preference for this particular vaccine.
The countries will be able to purchase the vaccines using cash or an Afreximbank facility. Most countries have already completed their pre-orders.
Over a period of 18 months, African countries will be able to access the vaccines through the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP).
The AU launched the AMSP, a non-profit initiative to coordinate an immediate, integrated and practical response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
AU Special Envoy and telecoms entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa led the development of the online platform powered by Janngo on behalf of the African Union’s Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
AMSP also works in partnership with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with the support of leading African & international Institutions, foundations & corporations as well as the governments of China, Canada & France.
Addressing conference participants, Afreximbank President Prof Benedict Oramah, expressed optimism that the signing of the agreement would pave the way for the vaccination of millions of Africans.
“In the midst of a very tight COVID-19 vaccine market, we look forward to beginning the deployment of the 2 billion USD Vaccine Procurement facility that will assist the continent to begin to rid itself of the pandemic and rebuild its economy,” said Prof Oramah.
He added that the facility would come into play in case the AU member states expressed interest in acquiring more vaccine doses.
“We have already commenced engagement with our financial partners to secure the additional funding that would support procurement if Africa decides to procure the additional 180 million doses,” said the bank’s boss.