Hope at last as African Union dispatches J&J amid Covid-19 spike

Monday August 09 2021
Covid vaccine.

Sudan government officials receive a shipment of vaccines at Khartoum International Airport late on August 5, 2021. Africa has been relying on Covax — the global initiative to acquire vaccines for poorer countries. PHOTO | AFP

By Elizabeth Merab

After months of waiting for Covid-19 vaccines, the Africa Union last week announced it was starting to dispatch Johnson & Johnson doses.

This is even as the continent recorded a peak in cases, marking the highest seven-day toll (from August 1 to 5) since the onset of the pandemic in the continent, new data from the World Health Organisation shows.

During the weekly WHO briefing, John Nkengasong, who heads the Africa CDC revealed that he owes his life to the vaccine after he caught the virus. He said that despite being fully vaccinated, he got infected and had severe symptoms.

The head of the agency leading Africa's response to the coronavirus pandemic said he owes his life to the vaccine after he caught the virus

"If I hadn't had the vaccine... I can assure you that it would have been over for me by now. "I want to be very clear without that I wouldn't be here, because even with the breakthrough infection the severity of the attack is so unbearable, I mean the headaches, the fevers... every part of your body is basically affected,” said Dr Nkengasong.

The continent had been relying on Covax — the global initiative to acquire vaccines for poorer countries — but it has been beset by delays, a situation that led to African countries in March to seek vaccine supplies using a new initiative.


African Union member states will start receiving their consignment of the 400 million doses monthly. The vaccines were purchased through the Afrieximbank by the AU and African Vaccine Acquisition Trust according to South Africa’s President and African Union Covid-19 champion Cyril Ramaphosa.

“AU member states pooled their purchasing power, through the AVAT, for the purchase of 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot Covid-19 vaccine, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses,” said President Ramaphosa.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was selected for three reasons: First of all, as a single-shot vaccine, it is easier and cheaper to administer; second, the vaccine has a long shelf-life and has favourable storage conditions.

“Last but not least, the vaccine is partly manufactured on the African continent, with fill-finish activities taking place in South Africa, added President Ramaphosa in a statement.

The first monthly shipments were dispatched on August 5 and will continue until a total of 6.4 million doses are shipped in August. Kenya was expecting a consignment on August 7. Monthly shipments will continue and be continually ramped up, with a target of delivering almost 50 million vaccines before the end of December. By January, the number of vaccines being released will be in excess of 25 million per month.

Data from the World Health Organisation shows that more than 6,400 deaths have been recorded in the continent, representing a two per cent rise compared with the previous week, with South Africa and Tunisia accounting for over 55 per cent of the fatalities.

This comes as Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Africa ramp up. Nearly 12 million doses arrived through Covax in July, more than the doses received in April, May, and June combined. The past two weeks of July saw a 12-fold rise in deliveries from the first half of the month.

Africa has received 91 million Covid-19 vaccine doses so far. About 24 million people, just 1.7 per cent of Africa's population, are fully vaccinated. Kenya received another donation of some 182,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the Greek government.

The continent needs up to 183 million more doses to fully vaccinate 10 per cent of its population by the end of September and up to 729 million more doses to meet the end of year goal of fully vaccinating 30 per cent of the continent’s population.

There have been concerns about low vaccinations rates on the continent. Less than two per cent of Africa's population has been fully vaccinated.