Zimbabwe can access 3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses under AU-Afrex facility

Medical personnel check temperatures of patients visiting Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo (pic: ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP)

Three million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been made available to Zimbabwe under an African Union facility backed by Afreximbank.

The African Vaccine Acquisition Task team (Avatt), established by the AU in August, is procuring 270 million doses for Africa, which will be distributed across the continent on the basis of population size, according to a statement by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is AU chairman.

Zimbabwe’s allocation, under the plan, will be 3 010 283 doses. This will cost the country US$20.5 million, according to an Afreximbank schedule.

As part of the Avatt facility, Afreximbank will, upon receipt of firm orders from African states, provide advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2 billion to the manufacturers on behalf of countries. African countries will then pay for the drugs using an Afreximbank instalment payment facility of up to five years.

The vaccines are being supplied by Pfizer, AstraZeneca – through an independent licensee, Serum Institute of India – as well as Johnson & Johnson.

The Afrex facility is to add to the COVAX initiative, co-led by the World Health Organisation, which is meant to deliver vaccines evenly around the world. The AU fears Africa may not get enough vaccines under COVAX.

“While the COVAX initiative is vital to Africa’s response, the African Union is concerned that the COVAX volumes to be released between February and June may not extend beyond the needs of frontline health care workers, and may thus not be enough to contain the ever-increasing toll of the pandemic in Africa,” Ramaphosa said in a statement on Thursday.

The target of 600 million doses under COVAX will cover only about 300 million people across the African continent, about 20% of the population.

Vaccine reach

Scientists at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) have advised that countries need to reach at least 60% of the population to substantially slow the spread of the disease.

“Given the massive global demand for vaccines and the vastly greater purchasing power of wealthier countries, we are exploring all avenues to get as many vaccine doses as soon as possible,” Ramaphosa said.

African officials have approached at least 10 vaccine manufacturers and developers as the continent seeks to vaccinate 60% of its population of 1.3 billion people, or about 780 million people. The Africa CDC has said some 1.5 billion doses are needed for that, assuming two doses per person. It estimates the effort will cost some US$10 billion.

In December, in a national address, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe’s vaccine strategy would rely mostly on the COVAX facility, and that a survey had been carried out at the end of 2020 to prepare for a rollout.

Zimbabwe could receive its first batch of the vaccine in February, officials say. The government is finalising its vaccine policy, setting up a distribution network and training healthcare workers, according to Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe saw its deadliest day since the pandemic began with 47 deaths and 1112 new cases recorded.