Sixteen African nations interested in AU vaccine plan

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Some 16 African countries have shown interest in securing COVID-19 vaccines under an African Union (AU) initiative and the aim is to deliver allocations in the next three weeks, the head of a continental disease control body said on Thursday.

John Nkengasong, Africa's Director of Centers for Disease Control (CDC), speaks during a news conference at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

As wealthier nations push ahead with mass immunisation, Africa is seeking to immunise 60% of its 1.3 billion people in the next three years. Only a handful of African nations have begun giving doses.

The AU bloc initially secured 270 million doses from manufacturers for member states, then late last month said it would receive another 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

John Nkengasong, director of the AU’s Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the 16 countries had so far placed requests for the vaccines under the bloc’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), which started operation in mid-January.

“With respect to AVATT, 16 countries have now expressed their interest for a total 114 million doses of vaccines,” Nkengasong told a virtual news conference.

“Our hope is that in the next two to three weeks, they should be having their vaccines. But I cannot give you a specific date.”

Separately from the AU’s efforts, Africa is to receive about 600 million vaccine doses this year via the COVAX facility co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Though COVID-19 has not hit Africa as badly as some experts feared, wealth disparities, logistical difficulties and “vaccine nationalism” by richer nations may put the world’s poorest continent at a disadvantage.

Africa has reported 3.5 million infections and 88,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

That is fewer fatalities than individual nations the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.

Reporting by George Obulutsa, Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Cawthorne