COVAX To Begin Dispatch Of 90 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To Africa
COVAX will begin shipping its COVID vaccinations to Africa this month.
COVAX will begin shipping its COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa this month.

COVAX aims to start shipping nearly 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the continent this month – in what will be Africa’s largest ever mass vaccination campaign, said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti at a press briefing Thursday.

COVAX has notified countries in Africa of the estimated dose allocation for the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine delivery, Moeti said. The global initiative is led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

“Africa has watched other regions start COVID-19 vaccination campaigns from the side-lines for too long. This planned roll-out is a critical first step to ensuring the continent gets equitable access to vaccines,” said Moeti at the briefing. “We know no one will be safe until everyone is safe.”

AstraZeneca To Be Main COVAX Product Delivered For Now
AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine will be the bulk of the COVAX products shipped to Africa
AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine will be the bulk of the COVAX products shipped to Africa

The AstraZeneca/Oxford AZD1222 vaccine will comprise the bulk of the products to be shipped by COVAX. And that still remains subject to the vaccine being listed for emergency use by WHO. The organization is currently reviewing the vaccine and the outcome of the review is expected soon, WHO has said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine faced a setback yesterday when Swissmedic, the Swiss regulatory authority, gave it a thumbs down for the moment, saying that more evidence about efficacy was still needed.  At the same time the European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine last Friday – although half a dozen European Union countries have restricted the use of the vaccine in older people because data on people over the age of 55 was lacking in the vaccine’s Phase 3 clinical trials. At the same time, the United Kingdom, which was the first to give the vaccine regulatory approval, is rolling it out in older people.

COVAX notified countries through letters last week of their expected vaccine allocation.

Amid surging demand for COVID-19 vaccines, the initial allocations were based on a  “fair allocation strategy” developed by WHO, based around countries’ population, infrastructure readiness, mortality rates and trends, as well as and risks faced by health workers.

Initial Pfizer Vaccine Distribution To Countries That Can Handle Ultra-Cold Chain Requirement

In addition, around 320 000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been allocated to four African countries -Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia – which have more capacity to handle the vaccines ultra cold-chain requirement of storage at -70 C.

The Pfizer vaccine has received WHO Emergency Use Listing – and Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla recently offered 40 million vaccine doses to the Facility at-cost. Thirteen African countries submitted proposals for the vaccine, and were evaluated by a multi-agency committee based on the fair allocation criteria – as well as the vaccine’s ultra-cold chain needs.

“This announcement allows countries to fine-tune their planning for COVID-19 immunization campaigns. We urge African nations to ramp up readiness and finalize their national vaccine deployment plans. Regulatory processes, cold chain systems and distribution plans need to be in place to ensure vaccines are safely expedited from ports of entry to delivery. We can’t afford to waste a single dose,” said Dr Moeti.

The initial phase of 90 million doses to be delivered over the first half of 2021 will support countries to immunize 3% of the African population most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups. As production capacity increases and more vaccines become available the aim is to vaccinate at least 20% of Africans by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of 2021.

To complement COVAX efforts, the African Union has secured 670 million vaccine doses for the continent which will be distributed in 2021 and 2022 as countries secure adequate financing. The African Export-Import Bank will facilitate payments by providing advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2 billion to the manufacturers on behalf of countries.

Image Credits: GovernmentZA/Flickr, Tim Reckman/Flickr.

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