While the African Union originally aimed to vaccinate 60% of the population across Africa by next year to reach herd immunity against COVID-19, this goal might need to be raised to 70%. And if it is, the AU expects to require an additional $300 million in financing for doses, said Benedict Oramah, president of the African Export-Import Bank, or Afreximbank, during a news briefing Tuesday.
“We want to buy vaccines. We’re not asking for donations.”
— Strive Masiyiwa, special envoy for the AU
The initial goal was calculated based on the circulation of COVID-19 before the emergence of the more transmissible delta variant, which has a relatively higher rate of reproduction. The increased target falls in line with the goals of the World Health Organization to vaccinate 70% of the global population by the middle of next year.
“I will be working together with COVAX and other partners to make sure that the continent gets that 70%,” said John Nkengasong, director at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, during the briefing, referring to the international program aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Initial calculations of the needed doses were based on the 60% goal — which is equal to vaccinating about 780 million people.
Seth Berkley, chief executive officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said COVAX expects to provide the African continent with enough doses to meet half of the 60% goal by February, but if the target is raised to 70%, the program aims to supply the needed doses by March.
To make up for the rest of the 60% goal, the AU signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson for up to 400 million doses of the company’s one-shot vaccine for countries to purchase. Afreximbank provided $2 billion in funding earlier this year to secure these doses.
“Moving to 70% will require an additional $300 million immediately to be able to achieve that,” Oramah said.
The AU has not announced any additional vaccine purchasing deals for countries beyond the J&J agreement. Strive Masiyiwa, special envoy for the AU, said export bans on ingredients for manufacturing vaccines are preventing the AU from buying more doses.
“We want to buy vaccines. We’re not asking for donations,” he said.
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Preparing for booster shots would require an additional $500 million to $600 million in funding for African nations — and that doesn’t include the logistical costs of getting the doses into arms, Oramah said.
Masiyiwa said countries need quick access to funding. He added that one of the key lessons learned from the pandemic is that “you can’t run around looking for money in the midst of a crisis.” He called upon the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to take the reins on ensuring financing can be made available to countries quickly in the future.
“We strongly believe that the pledge architecture, where countries gather together and make pledges … has had its day. Let us now have a permanent structure,” Masiyiwa said.