COVID-19: Africa To Get Vaccine From Jan. 2021- Okonjo-Iweala

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said Africa will need at least $9bn to procure and distribute 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

This was disclosed on Thursday during a virtual press briefing by the organization’s Immunisation and Vaccines Development Programme Coordinator, Dr. Richard Mihigo.

However, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, has assured Nigeria and other African countries of access to COVID-19 vaccines as from the end of January through the first quarter of 2021.

This was revealed in a statement by the Ministry of foreign Affairs, which quoted Okonjo-Iweala as disclosing this after a closed-door meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama in Abuja.

“As long as one person has it in the world, no one is safe. And that is why poorer countries, lower middle-income countries like Nigeria, need to get it as quickly as possible”, she was quoted as saying.

Okonjo-Iweala is currently the African Union Special Envoy on mobilising international economic support for the continental fight against COVID-19 and Nigeria’s candidate for the Office of the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has been voted in.

She disclosed that the international initiative involved to get the vaccines delivered to developing and poorer countries, in an affordable manner include the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI and the international community.

According to her, the Pfizer vaccine and AstraZeneca were being negotiated so that poor countries don’t have to stand in a queue behind rich countries.

The former finance minister described Africans as blessed, for not having the same incidence rate of COVID-19 like other continents, but warned African nations against complacency.

“So, the Pfizer vaccine, the AstraZeneca, those are being negotiated now so that poor countries don’t have to stand in line behind rich countries.

 “So, we hope they are starting by the end of January. We will be able to reach these countries, including most of the African countries, Nigeria included, will be able to get access to some of these vaccines.

“Initially, it will be for frontline health workers, followed by some other target groups – older people, those with underlying conditions and then, from there, the rest of the population. I think the COVAX facility can cover maybe 20-23 percent of the population by the end of next year,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

On ramping up preparedness for COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in Africa,  WHO’s Mihigo stressed the need to ensure an equitable and timely distribution of the vaccines.

“We will definitely need to vaccinate between 60% to 70% of the African population.

“So, if you consider that, we have about 1.2 to 1.3 billion people on the African continent and you take 60% of that with the assumption that you will need maybe two doses per population, we are talking about close to 1.3 to 1.4 billion vaccine doses that will be needed to immunise 60% of the people in Africa to reach a herd immunity”, Mihigo said.

He further explained that it is not just about the cost of the vaccines but the cost of delivering them and ensuring that they get to the right locations.

He added that there were no guarantees that there would be enough supplies before the end of 2021.

The WHO official further stated, “So, if we compute that number with the preliminary information that we are getting with these vaccine manufacturers because it is not only the cost of the vaccines. There are also additional costs that are needed to deliver those vaccines.

“We know very well that the preliminary rough estimation that is being done, we may need up to $9bn. So, this is a lot of money, a lot of funding that will be needed. First of all, we are not sure that we are going to get enough supply to immunise everybody by the end of 2021. This may spill over to the year after but also to mobilise such an amount of money, I think it will be an additional challenge.”

Mihigo said the COVAX Facility, which is a Gavi-coordinated pooled procurement mechanism for developing COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring fair and equitable access, would make 20 percent of the vaccines available.

He revealed that there are discussions ongoing with the African Union to work with other multilateral or development banks like the World Bank, Afrexim Bank to mobilise resources.

“Depending on how much vaccines we need, starting by the COVAX facility alone, I think there is an ambition to reach at least 20 per cent but as I said before there are a lot of discussions going on if we really need to reach a herd immunity that will help people to go back to some sort of normal life”, he said.

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