A provisional amount of 270 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine has been obtained by the African Union (AU) for distribution across the continent.
All doses will be used this year, promises the current South African president of the AU, Cyril Ramaphosa.
This is in addition to the 600 million doses already promised but it is still not enough to vaccinate the whole region.
There are fears that the world’s poorest countries will wait much longer than richer countries to be vaccinated.
Although the number of infections and death rates are comparatively lower across much of Africa, cases are on the rise again in some areas.
A new variant of Covid-19 in South Africa causes a particular alarm and constitutes most new cases.
“Through our own efforts, we have so far secured an interim commitment of 270 million vaccines from three main suppliers: Pfizer, AstraZeneca (via the Serum Institute of India) and Johnson & Johnson,” said President Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.
At least 50 million doses will be available “for the crucial period from April to June 2021,” he said.
In addition, the region is expecting around 600 million doses from the global Covax effort which aims to provide vaccines to low-income countries.
But officials are still waiting for details and are now “happy that we have alternative solutions”, Nicaise Ndembi, senior scientific advisor for the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the AP news agency.
Mr Ramaphosa said officials feared the doses of the Covax effort released in the first half of 2021 would be enough to vaccinate healthcare workers. With a population of 1.3 billion people and each person needing two vaccines, Africa would need around 2.6 billion doses to ultimately vaccinate everyone.
“These efforts aim to complement Covax’s efforts and ensure that as many doses of vaccine as possible are available across Africa as soon as possible,” he explained.
Africa has recorded more than three million cases of Covid-19 and nearly 75,000 deaths. In contrast, the United States has reported nearly 23 million infections and more than 383,000 deaths.
There has been a global rush to buy vaccines, with richer countries accused of buying most of the supply.
Good news but long wait
As many had feared, Africa appears to be at the end of the queue to get Covid-19 vaccines.
The announcement of 270 million doses by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – who is also the current president of the African Union – is good news. This is in addition to those guaranteed by the Covax facility, which is run by the World Health Organization and the Vaccine Alliance, Gavi. The facility obtained 600 million doses sufficient to vaccinate only one fifth of the continent.
But it may be some time before any of them arrive on the continent. Announcements are vaccine supply agreements. There is still the actual buying process that needs to take place. Negotiations are ongoing.
The richest nations were ahead of the game. They have already acquired the bulk of the first doses produced through advance purchase agreements with manufacturers. The race is on to meet this demand.
Africa, on the other hand, still faces funding gaps. There are also questions about the continent’s readiness to receive the vaccines. Ultra-cold refrigeration is required for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Countries are working on building their cold chains. But even that is marred by a shortage of funds.
So the continent can only wait.