The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Thursday that African countries have started signing up to a ground-breaking, global initiative to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccine, once developed, will reach everyone, everywhere.
The initiative — called the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) — aims to secure at least 220 million doses of the vaccine for Africa, once the vaccine is licensed and approved.
COVAX was launched by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in April with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. COVAX aims to purchase 2 billion doses of the future COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.
These vaccines will be distributed globally by the facility, and in a way that ensures all people have equitable access, as well as ensuring that, even if countries are not able to pay, they will still have access to the vaccine.
Richard Mihigo, head of the World Health Organsation’s Immunisation and Vaccine Development in Africa, encouraged “communities to prepare the way for one of the largest vaccination campaigns Africa has ever experienced.”
At the moment, Africa has 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 30,000 deaths. The spread of pandemic is unfolding alongside long-standing challenges with access to quality health care.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is also set to impact the continent’s short and long-term development goals, according to the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the regional director for Africa at the World Health Organisation, said: “COVAX is a ground-breaking global initiative which will include African countries and ensure they are not left at the back of the queue for COVID-19 vaccines.”
“By reaching beyond the continent to work together with other governments and manufacturers on a global scale and pooling buying power, countries can protect the people most vulnerable to the disease in Africa,” Moeti added.
Equal, global access to the COVID-19 vaccine is an essential part of putting an end to the pandemic, because if vaccines are available to just a few countries, it wouldn’t stop the virus spreading across borders.
It means that, with COVID-19, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
All 54 countries in Africa have now expressed interest in COVAX, according to the WHO, and the initiative is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure access to enough vaccine doses to protect the most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the European Commission also announced this week that it has joined COVAX, committing €400 million in guarantees to support the global collaboration.
COVAX works through encouraging high-, middle-, and low-income countries to get on board — with high- and middle-income countries self-financing their participation, while lower-middle and low-income countries will have their participation supported.
Richard Hatchett, chief of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), added that it’s also important for African countries to take part in vaccine trials, “in addition to the clinical trials taking place in other regions of the world."
One global clinical trial that is also being conducted in South Africa is being carried out by the Witwatersrand University (WITS).
Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at WITS and director of the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA) at South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC), told Global Citizen that it's important for African countries to host vaccine trials too, because it has to be determined how the vaccine "will work in the African context."
He added: "Unless we work out how the vaccine performs in our settings, we'll be in the dark."
The trials started in July. Meanwhile, Madhi said, results from the trials are likely to be available in December. Even then, he noted, the global competition to access vaccines that are still being developed meant that countries in Africa could be among the last to access vaccines.
“[Even if the vaccine is approved] there is still the manufacturing process, and huge demand. Some countries are already purchasing vaccines that don’t exist yet as they have been shown to work. There is huge competition around gaining access to vaccines,” he said.
This makes COVAX even more crucial, says Mitoha Ondo'O Ayekaba, deputy minister for Health and Social Welfare in Equatorial Guinea.
Ayekaba said: "Equatorial Guinea has signed up to COVAX as it's the most effective way to ensure that our people can access COVID-19 vaccines... We believe that through this initiative we can access successfully tested vaccines in a timely manner and at lower cost."
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