Confronting Vaccine Delivery Challenges 2-Years Later
By Pearl Matibe (in Washington DC)
The United States is reiterating what efforts it has been making, what milestones it has been reaching, and what diplomatic efforts it has been making in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 21 October, Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator outlined the sub-Saharan Africa vaccine dose environment as we approach the end of 2021.
He said, “the population of sub-Saharan Africa is about 1.14 billion. If you assume a two-dose regimen, which most are – Johnson & Johnson is still formally one dose, although some of the recent research holds the potential, I think, to alter that, but I won’t get ahead of the research there. But so just assume in general a two-dose regimen for most vaccines. That would be about 1.6 billion doses that would be needed to – would need to be administered in sub-Saharan Africa to hit 70 percent. That’s 70 percent of population times two doses apiece.”
These quantities are entering through the COVAX portfolio through both U.S support and the support of via 1-billion doses of Pfizer as well as other doses which COVAX has secured.
The African Union’s African vaccine access initiative, AVATT, secured 400 million doses of J&J. The U.S is adding more from its surplus and sharing that with Africa. Konyndyk explained, “we are coordinating it very closely with AVATT. All of it, in fact, is being coordinated closely with AVATT.”
Honourable Gayle Smith, coordinator of the Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security at the State Department clarified that “On the diplomatic front, in answer to your questions, two quick things. I think with many of the countries we work with, primarily, say, in the G7, we are strongly encouraging, and we’ve got strong commitment, but one of the things we all need to do is be able to project when we’re going to be able to provide these vaccines, give the countries fair notice, and accelerate the pace. Because as Jeremy says, we’re seeing some improvements on the supply side, but it doesn’t mean we’re there.”
Smith says the Biden Administration is encouraging other countries with surplus doses to share as quickly as possible and help make it possible for more of the world to be vaccinated as we move towards a 70% target, “but also so that we build the system architecture, rhythm, and planning that is needed to run a smooth global operation in partnership with institutions and governments all over the world.”
As the U.S. hit a milestone last week of delivering to 100-countries, Konyndyk said they have, “shared 200 million vaccine doses to date. We’ve got a billion and counting to go, and there’s a lot of work to be done. But we think we’re gaining good momentum.
“As the 2-day 2021 G20 Summit, begins this Saturday, October 30 commenders and critics, alike will be monitoring developments.
As the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group Annual Meetings drew to a close, the Director of IMF’s African Department, wrote an article in which he explains some of the challenges ahead. It says, “The vaccine rollout in sub-Saharan Africa has been the slowest in the world, leaving the region vulnerable to repeated waves of COVID-19. The region has fully vaccinated only 3 per cent of its population, well below the level needed to reach herd immunity. Although the world is set to produce around 12 billion doses in 2021, it will likely be more than a year before a meaningful number of people are vaccinated in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Good News of Regional Milestones
In South Africa last week, U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) Chief Operating Officer David Marchick was in South Africa meeting with Biovac executives. Biovac is the South Africa-based bio-pharmaceutical company which is operating in, “cooperation with Pfizer and BioNTech, is poised to fill and finish 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Africa for delivery in Africa,” states a 20 October 2021 DFC press statement. Further, it says Marchick and Biovac’s CEO Dr Morena Makhoana talked about, “potential opportunities to expand vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa, to bolster the global response to COVID-19 and advance long-term health security throughout the African continent.” On this initiative, the DFC has collaborated with the International Finance Corporation.
In Zambia, the U.S. Embassy announced, “the arrival of 336,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine that the U.S is sharing with Zambia through COVAX” adding that, “This batch brings the number of doses of the J&J COVID-19 doses provided to Zambia to 638,400 (the first arrived on July 21, 2021). Arriving at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, via COVAX, today, October 20, this total donation of the vaccines is the largest by a single country to Zambia to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In Zimbabwe, the U.S. Embassy confirmed through a published press statement that the U.S. “Congress approved $213.2 million for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) 2021 country plan for Zimbabwe, reflecting strong coordination between the United States and key partners, including the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Global Fund, UNAIDS, and civil society.” It has said that PEPFAR’s support to the country, includes the $1.7 billion cumulative investment since 2003, “noting that among all Zimbabweans on HIV treatment, 90.3 percent had achieved viral load suppression, meaning they effectively have no risk of transmitting HIV to others. Continued PEPFAR investment will ensure Zimbabwe remains on track to attaining epidemic control and ending AIDS by 2030.”
In Botswana, the U.S. provided has provided COVID-19 assistance to Botswana, giving an additional $4 million in urgent COVID-19 assistance funding a US Embassy Botswana press statement shows. “This additional assistance from the historic American Rescue Plan Act builds on more than $8.4 million in COVID-19 assistance to Botswana since the pandemic first emerged.”
Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator, Pearl Matibe. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe