The African Union (AU) has secured close to 300 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the largest such agreement yet for Africa.
Nicaise Ndembi, senior science adviser for the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press the doses will be shared out by the AU to make it easier for Africa’s 54 countries to pool their purchasing power and buy pandemic supplies in bulk.
The 300 million doses are being secured independently of the global Covax effort launched in April by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and France in response to the pandemic aimed at distributing Covid-19 vaccines to lower-income countries.
Ndembi said, “We’re also expecting 600 million doses from the Covax facility, but officials are still waiting for the details so we’re happy we have alternative solutions.”
The news comes as coronavirus infections spike again in parts of the continent, especially South Africa, where a rapidly spreading extra-infectious variant now makes up most new cases.
Over the weekend, the continent surpassed three million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 1.2 million in South Africa.
Ndembi said African officials have approached at least 10 vaccine manufacturers and developers as the continent seeks to vaccinate 60% of its population of 1.3 billion people, or about 780 million people. The Africa CDC has said some 1.5 billion doses will be needed for that, assuming two doses per person. It estimates the effort will cost some US$10 billion.
Ndembi has said he’s very optimistic that can be achieved within two years. The Africa CDC has warned that taking much longer than that risks having the virus become endemic in parts of the African continent.
In an address to South Africans, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the country had secured 20 million vaccine doses. He gave no further details but said, “The South African government has been engaging directly with several vaccine manufacturers for over six months.
“Given the massive global demand for vaccines and the vastly greater purchasing power of wealthier countries, we are exploring all avenues to get as many vaccine doses as soon as possible.”