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270 Million COVID-19 Vaccines Headed for African Continent

Health worker in a protective suit works in the makeshift emergency unit at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, Jan. 11, 2021, which is battling an ever-increasing number of Covid-19 patients.

The African Union says the continent is set to receive about 270 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and wants to see them distributed equitably.

For just over two months, a team at the 55-member organization of African states has worked to ensure the continent gets its fair share of the coveted COVID-19 vaccines. Late Wednesday, the team announced they had done it.

The 270 million doses are just under a fifth of the 1.5 billion that officials think they will need to vaccinate around 70% of the continent. That is the rough threshold to achieve herd immunity.

“President (Cyril) Ramaphosa said that from the onset of this pandemic, our focus as a continent has been on collaboration and collective effort,” said Tyrone Seale, spokesman for the South African president and former AU chairman. “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."

Seale did not say exactly when the first doses will become available. He said that about 50 million will arrive between April and June, which is considered a critical period. The rest of the 270 million doses will be available later this year, he said. The India-manufactured vaccines will come from Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

In a separate announcement last week, officials in South Africa, the continent’s COVID-19 hot spot, announced they would receive 1 million Indian-manufactured vaccine doses by the end of January, and another half million in February. The nation hopes to vaccinate 40 million people — about 67% of the population — by year’s end.

South Africa has seen just under 1.3 million confirmed cases since the virus arrived in March. The second wave of the virus, featuring a new variant that appears to be more contagious, began in December.

Low-income countries do not have the same access to the market as nations like South Africa, which is a member of the G-20 economic group of nations. So, the AU made its own plan.

Seale said the AU, working with Afreximbank, will guarantee a total of $2 billion in vaccine orders from member states.

He said there is also “close collaboration” between the AU and the World Bank to ensure that member states can access an additional $5 billion either to buy vaccines or pay for delivery of vaccines committed on their behalf by the bank.

Seale said he hopes donors will step in and ensure vaccines are provided and paid for, to ease the debt burden on AU member states.