THE African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team has secured a provisional 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses for African countries, South African President and African Union (AU) chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa has revealed.

Ramaphosa said the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), which he established after the outbreak of COVID-19, has reported that 50-million of the 270-million doses would be made available for the crucial period of April to June 2021.

The vaccines would be supplied by Pfizer, AstraZeneca (through an independent licensee, Serum Institute of India) and Johnson & Johnson.

Ramaphosa said that the AU efforts complemented the COVAX facility, a World Health Organisation and Gavi Vaccine Alliance initiative to help low- and middle-income countries secure access to vaccines on a fair and equitable basis. 

AVATT, a 10-member team drawn from across the continent, was established in August 2020 to ensure that the African continent would be able to secure sufficient vaccine doses to achieve herd immunity. 

President Ramaphosa said: “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.”

The AU chairperson added that arrangements have been made with Afreximbank to support member states who want to access these vaccines based on a whole-of-Africa approach. Afreximbank would, upon receipt of firm orders from member states, provide advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2 billion to the manufacturers on behalf of member states. 

Upon delivery of the vaccines, member states would be able to pay using their internal resources or access an instalment payment facility of up to five years offered by Afreximbank. 

He said there is also close collaboration between the AU team and the World Bank to ensure that member states were able to access about $5-billion either to buy more vaccines or pay for delivery of vaccines committed on their behalf by Afreximbank. 

Ramaphosa said while the COVAX initiative was vital to Africa’s response, the AU was concerned that the COVAX volumes to be released between February and June may not extend beyond the needs of frontline health care workers, and may thus not be enough to contain the ever-increasing toll of the pandemic in Africa. 

Another challenge, he added, was that the target of 600 million doses from COVAX will cover only about 300 million people across the African continent, which is only about 20% of the population. 

Ramaphosa said scientists at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have advised that we need to reach at least 60% of the population to substantially slow the spread of the disease.

“The AVATT team continues to engage other suppliers to secure more vaccines. 

Given the virulent nature of the COVID pandemic, it is clear that a threat to one nation and continent is a threat to all. To successfully eradicate the global threat of the disease, it is critical that a majority of citizens of all nations get urgent and equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.

“I wish to commend the members of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, Afreximbank, Africa CDC and all those who have been working tirelessly to secure these vaccines for the people of Africa. There is a long road ahead, but as Africa we are now seeing progress in our shared effort to defeat this disease,” he said.