Washington, DC — The White House is announcing today that the Biden administration will donate approximately 25 million COVID-19 vaccines to be distributed in Africa. Planned to be made in the next few days are shipments of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine to Burkina Faso, Djibouti and Ethiopia.
In the coming weeks, U.S. officials say, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer vaccines will be made available to 49 African countries. The administration says the government has collaborated fully with the African Union, the Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC), the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, the Afreximbank, a Cairo-based multi-lateral trade finance institution, and the Covax collaborative for equitable vaccine distribution, co-led by the World Health Organization [@WHO] and the Gavi vaccine alliance.
The U.S. doses will be delivered by Covax, which expects to get 620 million doses to Africa by the end of 2021, rising to 1 billion doses by the end of the first quarter of 2022. The United States has also pledged to assist African nations in their readiness to receive vaccines. The donated shipments announced today follow the pledge made by President Joe Biden in May to share 80 million doses globally.
“The Biden Administration is committed to leading the global response to the pandemic by providing safe and effective vaccines to the world.” said Gayle Smith, Coordinator for Covid-19 Recovery and Global Health at the U.S. Department of State. “Working together, we can save lives and bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end,” she said.
“African deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks”, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said yesterday. Africa has recorded a 43 percent weekly rise in Covid cases, with over six million cases confirmed on the continent of 55 nations. Limited availability of testing means the actual totals are likely considerably higher.
The British medical journal The Lancet, in an editorial for its 17 July edition, says, “Collaboration and solidarity are prerequisites for success in a pandemic. Unfortunately, beyond scientific discovery, they have rarely been displayed globally…The need to vaccinate large proportions of the population while health systems strain under a third wave could have been avoided had international dissonance and vaccine nationalism not left African countries at the back of the vaccine queue.”
“As the continent battles a surge in cases, we need collective action,” said Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley, welcoming the U.S. vaccine contribution.
The collective action that global health experts say is necessary to help Africa avoid health systems collapse and further economic devastation was on view yesterday, at WHO’s Geneva headquarters, where German Health Minister Jens Spahn (@jensspahn) met WHO Director-General Tedros Adhamon Ghebreysus. At a media briefing, they announced Germany’s agreement to donate “at least” 30 million Covid vaccine doses, which Spahn called an initial “baseline”. “This pandemic will not be over until it is over for everyone,” Spahn said.
He pledged Euro260 million for tests, treatments and vaccines, alongside the US$500 million Germany has contributed to WHO to support the Covid19 response. Vaccine experts estimate that for every dollar spent on vaccines, another five dollars are needed for such elements as cold storage and transportation within countries.
Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong welcomed the U.S. announcement of vaccine donations. “Today is a proud moment for Africa in ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” he said. Nkengasong has often repeated that leaving Africa and other poor countries to fend for themselves without Covid vaccines in the pandemic is short-sighted policy in wealthy countries. Large numbers of unvaccinated people are hospitable environments to the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid to become ‘fitter’ at infecting people everywhere.
The spread across Africa of the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), first identified in India in December, is driving the current wave of escalating infections. Delta, which is estimated to be as much as 60 percent more infectious than the variant that was circulating previously, is rapidly becoming dominant across the world, including in the United States. Epidemiologists worry that it won’t be the last, or the worst strain of Covid19.
“The donation of about 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Africa by the U.S. government is a welcome significant gesture. As part of the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team efforts, Afreximbank put in place a US$2 billion Advance Procurement Commitment Guarantee facility, which ultimately made it possible to secure access to 400 million doses of Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. These combined efforts give reason to be optimistic that the African Union’s goal of at least 60% vaccination coverage will be achieved soon,” said Prof. Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank.
“Only through Africa’s determination, and our global collective effort to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to the vaccine, will we be able to come out of this pandemic, knowing that we did not leave anyone behind, especially Africa,” said Dr Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.