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Zimbabwe to get 5m doses from AU facility

by Staff reporter
06 Aug 2021 at 06:39hrs | Views
Zimbabwe should soon start receiving initial shipments of its 5 million share of the 400 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine secured for Africa by the African Union (AU), the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef).

The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe last month approved the emergency use of Johnson and Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine, the first live vaccine approved, in addition to the previously approved inert vaccines from China, India and Russia.  The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is the main single-shot vaccine available, so the 5 million doses eventually coming Zimbabwe's way will be enough for 5 million people.

Zimbabwe has already paid US$7,5 million towards its share of the AU facility, and will be able to borrow the remainder, so it can start benefiting when the vaccines bought through that facility are being distributed from this month.  

The AU facility sees increasing monthly shipments totalling 50 million doses for the continent by the end of the year and at least 25 million doses a month from January.  Some of the final stages in the manufacturing process are being done in South Africa, the first time any work on Covid-19 vaccines has been done on the continent. South African President and African Union (AU) Covid-19 Champion, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has now announced that the monthly shipments of vaccines to member states started yesterday.

"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," he said.

After the initial shipments, consignments are expected to continue for a total of 6,4 million doses shipped this month. Monthly shipments will be continually increasing, with a target of delivering almost 50 million doses by year end and with monthly deliveries topping 25 million by January.

The AU-Unicef-AVAT partnership was put in place to help sort out the critical problem for much of Africa, access and supply of vaccines.  While Zimbabwe has managed better than most to sort out a supply chain, and is now rated at a developed country level when it comes to procurement, this level is far from universal in Africa. But even Zimbabwe will be relying on the AU facility for a significant percentage of its requirements which is why it released the funding towards its share.

"We are building a platform for deeper collaboration that will pave the way to a more robust African response to the pandemic and move the continent towards recovery, leveraging the opportunities to strengthen health systems and support the manufacturing sector for job creation," said Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations Under Secretary-General and executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa.

African Union special envoy Mr Strive Masiyiwa, who has been instrumental in securing the vaccines, said the coming on board of Unicef would assist in thwarting a third wave of Covid-19 that has hit most of the continent.

"We are pleased to have Unicef as a strategic partner in the delivery of these vaccines to our member states, as they are extremely experienced in handling and managing vaccines, and a strong and well-established relationship with all AU member states," said Mr Masiyiwa, who is also the Econet Group founder and chairman.

Unicef played a critical role almost four decades ago in pressing for universal vaccination of all children against a range of dangerous childhood infections and helped many countries establish the cold chains and other infrastructure needed to get these vaccines to even the most remote village children.  That infrastructure has proved invaluable to get the Covid-19 vaccines to the same clinics. Established by African leaders, AVAT has spearheaded African efforts on fair equitable access and distribution of vaccines, negotiating vaccine acquisition with pharmaceutical companies to at least 60 per cent of the African population with safe and efficacious vaccines to achieve "herd immunity".

"Since the pandemic began, Africa Centres for Disease Control has worked with Covax to ensure that African Union member states get fair access to Covid-19 vaccines. At this critical moment where widespread vaccination is more urgent than ever, we must do all to vaccinate at least 60 percent of the African population by 2022," said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control. The procurement of these vaccine doses has been made possible with the support of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), which provided a US$2 billion guarantee to Johnson and Johnson on behalf of the AU member states. The bank also made available direct financing to AU member states which require funding to pay for the vaccines.

In April 2021, Afreximbank made a down payment of US$330 million to Johnson and Johnson on behalf of the AU member states, as part of the commitment under the agreement.

"As the financial and transaction advisers to AVAT on the Johnson & Johnson Agreement, we are pleased to formally welcome Unicef to the partnership and look forward to a fruitful collaboration for efficient delivery of vaccines to African countries," said Professor Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank.

Access to vaccines is the surest way out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Emerging new variants suggest that global recovery will remain elusive if Africa is left behind. Speed and scale in vaccine distribution are imperative for economic recovery. The AVAT and Unicef partnership will also work to increase procurement and manufacturing on the continent as part of a broader strategy for sustainable health systems and job creation in Africa. The pandemic has highlighted Africa's pharmaceutical manufacturing vulnerabilities. Prior to the pandemic, the continent was only able to manufacture less than two percent of the total medicines needed.

"Access to Covid-19 vaccines has been unjust and unfair, with people in Africa bearing the brunt of this inequality. This cannot continue," said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore.

"Unicef is a staunch partner of the African continent with a long history of delivering vaccines everywhere they are needed. We are pleased to join this partnership with the African Union and AVAT to maximise supply and access to vaccines."

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for this first pooled procurement for three reasons: first of all, as a single-shot vaccine, it is easier and cheaper to administer; second, the vaccine has a long shelf-life, at six months, and favourable storage conditions. Last but not least, the vaccine is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa

Source - the herald