African governments must take urgent steps to prepare for distribution of coronavirus vaccines, the continent’s health watchdog said on Thursday after the African Union announced it had secured 270 million doses.
“We cannot wait. This is not polio or measles vaccination. We have to do it quick. Our economies are down, our people are dying,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a press conference.
“There’s absolutely no reason for accelerated preparations not to occur,” he added.
The AU deal announced on Wednesday was intended to benefit countries unable to finance their immunisation campaigns.
Governments will be able to make financing arrangements through the African Export-Import Bank that could allow for instalment payments over five years.
The doses – to be supplied by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – will complement vaccines secured via Covax, the globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort.
At least 50 million doses secured under the AU deal are expected to be available from April through June.
But Nkengasong said member states needed to act fast to organise storage sites in major cities, train health workers, secure supplies like needles and create effective systems to record who has received doses.
He said governments would be able to start ordering vaccines through an AU platform in the coming days.
Africa has recorded around 3.1 million COVID-19 cases, or 3.5 per cent of the global total, and around 75,000 deaths, or 2.4 per cent of the global total, according to Africa CDC data.
But there has been an average weekly increase in cases of 18 per cent over the past month, with significant rises in southern and western Africa in particular.
Roughly 30,000 new cases are being recorded across Africa each day, compared to 18,000 during the continent’s first wave last year, Nkengasong said.
The Africa CDC has set a target of vaccinating 60 per cent of Africans against COVID-19 in 2021 and 2022.
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