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Deal opens door to 400m doses for underserved Africa

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-01 09:59

Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and syringe are seen in front of displayed Johnson & Johnson logo in this illustration taken on Feb 9, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Up to 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from US drugmaker Johnson& Johnson will go to African countries under a deal secured with the backing of the African Export-Import Bank, or Afreximbank.

The agreement has been hailed as significantly boosting the continent's efforts to secure enough vaccines to turn back the coronavirus pandemic.

Signed on Monday, the deal enables the vaccine to be made available to African countries through the Africa Medical Supplies Platform over 18 months, according to Afreximbank. The platform was launched by the African Union last year to address vaccine supply shortages.

With the agreement, countries will have access to 220 million doses of the Johnson& Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses. Most of the supplies will be produced at a giant pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in South Africa operated by drug company Aspen Pharmacare.

"This transaction was made possible through the $2 billion facility approved by the African Export-Import Bank, who also acted as financial and transaction advisers, guarantors, installment payment advisers and payment agents," Afreximbank said in a statement.

The successful conclusion of the agreement was made possible by the support of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the United Nations Children's Fund who supported the negotiation process with Johnson & Johnson. UNICEF is also acting as procurement and logistics agent.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the agreement goes a long way to show that when African countries come together they can overcome common challenges.

"This agreement is a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans," said Ramaphosa, who is leading the African Union's efforts to obtain vaccines.

"It is also a powerful demonstration of African unity and of what we can achieve through partnership between the state sector, the private sector and international institutions that put people first," he said on a visit to the Aspen Pharmacare plant.

Game changer

John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agreement is a game changer in Africa's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Africa CDC recommended to the African Union that a minimum of 750 million Africans, or 60 percent, must be immunized if we are to contain the spread of COVID-19," Nkengasong said.

"This transaction enables Africa to meet almost 50 percent of that target. The key to this particular vaccine is that it is a single-shot vaccine which makes it easier to roll out quickly and effectively, thus saving lives."

Benedict Oramah, the president of Afreximbank, said countries will be able to purchase the vaccine using cash or a financing facility from Afreximbank. Most countries had already completed their preorders, Oramah said.

"Afreximbank is proud to be associated with this historic and collective effort. In the midst of a very tight COVID-19 vaccine market, we are highly honored to have been given the opportunity by the African Union to facilitate this impactful transaction under the auspices of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team," Oramah said.

"We look forward to beginning the deployment of the $2 billion vaccine procurement facility approved by the bank's board of directors toward assisting the continent to begin to rid itself of the pandemic and rebuild its economy."

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