A task team established by the African Union to help the continent secure Covid-19 vaccines received forms from 20 nations outlining their intentions to buy about 200 million shots, according to John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control.
Financial arrangements are being finalised with the African Export-Import Bank before the vaccines are delivered, Nkengasong said in an online briefing Thursday. He didn’t identify the prospective buyers.
The AU’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team initiative is intended to complement the international vaccine financing initiative Covax, which has promised 600 million doses to Africa by the end of the year. The continent has lagged in the global race to begin dispensing the shots.
The vaccine rollout in South Africa, which has Africa’s worst recorded Covid-19 outbreak, suffered a setback earlier this week when the results of a small study indicated the shots developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford had little impact on mild infections caused by a variant of the virus first identified in the country late last year.
Nkengasong urged African countries to proceed with dispensing the AstraZeneca shot if they have not reported widespread circulation of the new variant known as 501Y.V2. Those countries that had detected the strain — South Africa, Botswana, Comoros, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique — should accelerate their preparedness to introduce all vaccines that have received emergency-use authorisation, he said.
“There is a need to vaccinate quickly to arrest the spread of variants,” Nkengasong said.
A World Health Organisation panel on Wednesday underlined the benefits of continuing to use the AstraZeneca vaccine even in variant-hit areas. The company has pledged significant supplies to Covax and its vaccine is cheaper and easier to deploy than others that need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.
Ghana, Senegal, Morocco, the Gambia and Nigeria have reported the spread of a different strain that was first identified in the UK and is also causing concern, Nkengasong said.
Africa CDC will support all countries on the continent to expand their genome sequencing surveillance capabilities so that “we better understand the lay of the land with respect to the new variants,” he said. He also urged countries to produce data on the safety and efficacy of vaccines on populations that have these variants so that decisions on which shots are best for which countries can be ascertained before mass inoculations are rolled out.