Johannesburg – African countries can breathe a sigh of relief regarding uncertainty over the acquisition of vaccines for the continent.
The AU has secured up to a provisional 270 million vaccine doses which are set to be administered in regions on the continent.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the AU, made the announcement on Wednesday.
There have been concerns around Africa’s ability to access vaccines as European countries and the US have long begun rolling out vaccines to its citizens.
South Africa leads in Covid-19 cases on the continent.
The 270 million vaccine doses, which were acquired through the AU’s newly established African vaccine acquisition task team, will be supplied from pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
Ramaphosa said the first 50 million batches of vaccine doses can be expected between April and June. He said all other doses should be delivered this year.
The latest acquisition is expected to complement the vaccine acquiring methods offered by the World Health Organisation’s Covax facility – which has promised 600 million vaccine doses for the continent.
“From the onset of this pandemic, our focus as a continent has been on collaboration and collective effort. We have held steadfastly to the principle that no country should be left behind.
“With this in mind, we have not only campaigned vigorously for changes through all the available international forums, but we have taken the additional step to independently secure vaccines using our own limited resources as member states.
“As a result of our own efforts we have so far secured a commitment of a provisional amount of 270 million vaccines from three major suppliers: Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through Serum Institute of India) and Johnson & Johnson,” he said.
AU member states would be required to pay for the vaccines based on their needs. Payment arrangements would be made through Afreximbank for member states who need access to the vaccines.
“Upon delivery of the vaccines, member states may pay using their internal resources or access an instalment payment facility of up to five years offered by Afreximbank.
There is also close collaboration between the AU team and the World Bank to ensure that member states are able to access about US$5 billion either to buy more vaccines or pay for the delivery of vaccines committed on their behalf by Afreximbank,” the statement from the presidency said.
Ramaphosa said efforts were under way by the AU to acquire more doses of vaccines as concerns were that with the Covax facility only 20% of the continent would be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, in a World Health Organisation Africa briefing, officials announced that the first Covax vaccine doses were expected by March.
The organisation also announced that the new variant of the Covid-19 identified in South Africa has been identified in three other African countries, Botswana, Gambia and Zambia.