COVAX has said it will start shipping nearly 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to African countries this month.
A statement from the WHO Regional Office for Africa on Thursday said COVAX notified countries on the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine delivery through letters on 30 January 2021.
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COVAX is a global initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) aimed at bringing together governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reaches those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live.
The statement said the COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Africa will be the continent’s largest-ever mass vaccination campaign.
The initial phase of 90 million doses will support countries to immunize 3% of the African population most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021.
Amid surging demand for COVID-19 vaccines, the final shipments will be based on production capacities of vaccine manufacturers and the readiness of countries.
Recipient countries are required to submit finalized national deployment and vaccination plans to receive vaccines from the COVAX facility.
The statement said as production capacity increases and more vaccines become available, the aim is to vaccinate at least 20% of Africans by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of 2021.
“The roll-out of the AstraZeneca/Oxford AZD1222 vaccine is subject to the vaccine being listed for emergency use by WHO.
“The organisation is currently reviewing the vaccine and the outcome of the review is expected soon,” the statement said.
Speaking during a virtual press conference facilitated by APO Group on Thursday, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said Africa has watched other regions start COVID-19 vaccination campaigns from the side-lines for too long.
“This planned roll-out is a critical first step to ensuring the continent gets equitable access to vaccines.
“We know no one will be safe until everyone is safe,” she said.
Dr Moeti said the announcement allows countries to fine-tune their planning for COVID-19 immunization campaigns, adding: “We urge African nations to ramp up readiness and finalize their national vaccine deployment plans.
“Regulatory processes, cold chain systems and distribution plans need to be in place to ensure vaccines are safely expedited from ports of entry to delivery. We can’t afford to waste a single dose.”
To complement COVAX efforts, the African Union has secured 670 million vaccine doses for the continent which will be distributed in 2021 and 2022 as countries secure adequate financing.