African Union buys 270 million vaccine doses for continent

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The African Union announced Wednesday that it has purchased a total of 270 million doses of coronavirus vaccines for the continent from Pfizer, AstraZeneca through the Serum Institute of India, and Johnson & Johnson.

At least 50 million of the doses will be available in the months of April to June and the rest of will be delivered before the end of 2021, said the African Union chairman, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“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,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.

The purchase agreements were negotiated by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team established by the African Union, the statement said.

The news comes as coronavirus infections are spiking again in parts of Africa. The continent has surpassed 3 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with more than 1.2 million in South Africa, where a rapidly spreading variant of the coronavirus now makes up most of its new cases.

The acquisition of 270 million doses will complement the 600 million doses expected to be made available to Africa by the COVAX initiative, a World Health Organization and Gavi Vaccine Alliance initiative to help low- and middle-income countries to secure access to vaccines.

The new purchases with the doses from COVAX will provide Africa with just over half of the vaccine that it requires, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The continent seeks to vaccinate about 780 million people, representing some 60% of its population of 1.3 billion. The Africa CDC has said 1.5 billion doses are needed for that, assuming two doses per person, at an estimated total cost of some $10 billion.

Financing for individual African countries wanting to buy the vaccines will be available through the African Export-Import Bank, according to the African Union statement.

It is hoped that international donors will ensure that more vaccines are provided through COVAX, to reduce any new debt burden on African states, the statement said.

“Given the virulent nature of the COVID pandemic, it is clear that a threat to one nation and continent is a threat to all,” the statement said. “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.”

Ramaphosa said, “There is a long road ahead, but as Africa we are now seeing progress in our shared effort to defeat this disease.”