All African countries have signed up to secure at least 220 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine once licensed and approved, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced.
The African vaccine deal is being advanced through the Covax, a global initiative which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), and the WHO.
The deal was announced as Kenya continued to record infections. On Saturday, the Ministry of Health announced 136 new coronavirus cases (85 male and 51 female) from a sample of 3,707, bringing to 35,020 the number of confirmed infections. Cumulatively, the country has tested 471, 384 samples since it recorded its first case in March.
From the new cases, there were 124 Kenyans and 12 foreigners, with the youngest being an eight-month-old and the oldest being 75 years old.
Some 99 patients recovered from the virus, with 64 discharged from home-based care and 35 from health facilities, bringing the total of recoveries to 21, 158. Five more patients have succumbed to the disease. The fatalities are now 594.
Amid efforts to flatten the infection curve, Kenya has signed on to the vaccine initiative that will see the first doses given to frontline health workers.
“The initial batch will cover 20 per cent of the African population, initially prioritising the front line, healthcare workers, then expanding to cover vulnerable groups,” said Richard Mihigo, programme manager for WHO Africa, in a virtual briefing.
Eight African countries have agreed to self-finance through the Covax facility.
“The initiative seeks to ensure access for all: both higher and middle-income countries which will self-finance their own participation, and lower-middle-income and low-income countries, which will have their participation supported by the Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
The Covax-AMC has raised $700 million against an initial target of securing $2 billion seed funding from high-income donor countries, as well as private sector and philanthropists by the end of 2020.
“By working 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,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said WHO regional director for Africa.
Dr Moeti advised African countries to ensure that they participate in the ongoing global Covid-19 vaccine trials so that if a vaccine is found it will be safe and effective in protecting everybody regardless of their race.
Dr Richard Hatchett, Cepi chief executive, said it is critical that Africa participates in vaccine trials.
“Testing vaccines on the continent ensures that sufficient data is generated on the safety and efficacy of the most promising vaccine candidates for the African population so they can be confidently rolled out in Africa once vaccines are approved,” he said.
Cepi is investing in the research and development of a range of vaccine candidates to deliver safe and effective vaccines to those who need them most.
Covax aims to procure and deliver two billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021. It has nine vaccine candidates, two being South African).
Without this participation, scientists warn that it could take Africa between six and nine months to access the vaccines, because none will be used without being tested for efficacy.
African scientists have expressed concerns that the continent risks being left behind in getting the Covid-19 vaccine.
Dr Catherine Kyobutungi, executive director of the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC)) said that while the vaccines may be found to be safe and effective elsewhere , African countries must conduct their own trial studies.
“The concern is more about safety than efficacy, especially among people with underlying conditions like HIV, TB, malnutrition, etc. If the vaccine is found to work, say in the UK, Kenya may decide to introduce it in a controlled manner and first do Phase 4 trials — where the focus is on monitoring adverse effects, before a full release,” she added.
Recently, Kenya’s Ministry of Health said the government was in talks about trials of any potential vaccine.
“We have been on the frontiers on vaccine collaborations to ensure that once a vaccine is ready we can have a stake in getting the doses,” said Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Mercy Mwangangi.
The Ministry is, however, yet to give an update on the progress.
The global vaccine plan has nine Covid-19 vaccine candidates covering a range of technologies and scientific approaches. Some are in late-stage clinical trials and could have data available by year-end, said Dr Hatchett.
Scientists have agreed that African countries will need to have in place the right systems and infrastructure to define the regulatory and ethical pathways for quick approval of a candidate vaccine.
Countries will need to have logistics and supply chain systems which can reach not only the traditional target populations for routine immunisations and campaigns but be ready to vaccinate a much larger target population.
“It is important to start working with communities to prepare the way for one of the largest vaccination campaigns Africa has ever experienced,” added Dr Mihigo.
Africa has fared better-than-expected, health experts and government officials say, during the first wave of the pandemic, which began in March. The continent will also access drugs to treat Covid-19 at zero profit to governments through the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, which was launched early this year.
It has integrated vetted medical suppliers to ensure rapid access to affordable COVID-19 related supplies to African countries.
The new collaboration between Novartis and African Union's Africa Medical Supplies Platform will ensure that the countries purchase critical medical commodities and at a competitive price.
Globally, everyone is fighting to get adequate and much needed medical supplies and only those with money has gotten their way to the top.
The platform addresses the shortage of commodities, the security of suppliers, price competitiveness, and transparency in procurement.
The benefits of resource pulling in such a manner are numerous including the time factors. Countries will have access to an online marketplace with just a click of the button as opposed to the time-consuming process of touring the globe to procure the supplies.