The African Union (AU) has announced the commencement of monthly shipments of vaccines acquired by the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVAT) to member states of the pan-African union.
An initiative by the AU member states to pool their purchasing power, the AVATT had on March 28, 2021 signed a historic agreement 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 Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for this first pooled procurement for three reasons.
First, as a single-shot vaccine, it is easier and cheaper to administer; second, the vaccine has a long shelf-life and favourable storage conditions.
It is also partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa.
“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,” South African President and President of AU, Cyril Ramaphosa said.
“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,” Ramaphosa said.
The first monthly shipments are expected to arrive August 5 in several member states, and shipments will continue for a total of 6.4 million doses in August.
Monthly shipments will continue and be continually ramped up, with a target of delivering almost 50 million vaccines before the end of December.
By January, the number of vaccines being released will be in excess of 25 million per month. In collaboration with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), UNICEF is providing logistical and delivery services to the member states.
The 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.
It also marks the first time that the AU member states have collectively purchased vaccines to safeguard the health of the African population.
Four hundred million vaccines are believed to be 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 her own manufacturing capabilities.
AU Special Envoy, Strive Masiyiwa, 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 percent 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.”