COVID-19 vaccines in Africa: between nationalism, Pan Africanism and international charity

The fine resolutions of the African Union come up against the harsh reality on the ground. South African President and former AU Chairman, Cyril Ramaphosa, deplored it in Davos: the continental strategy has had lackluster success. The AU has “secured” an additional 400 million doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII), bringing to 670 million the number of doses pre-purchased under its African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (Avatt) initiative.


By Albert Savana


According to estimates by John Nkengasong, director of the African Centre for Disease Control (CDC), 50 million doses for the continent are expected to arrive by early April. About 1.5 billion doses will be needed to vaccinate 60 percent of Africa’s populations at a cost of between 5.8 and 8.2 billion euros. Financing is provided by Afreximbank and the World Bank. However, this vaccine Pan Africanism may bear the brunt of its slowness, with more and more countries betting on national programs. Egypt, Seychelles, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritius have launched their national campaigns. In mid-January, the Senegalese Ministry of Health released its COVID-19 vaccination plan, which calls for 90% of priority targets (health workers, people over 60, people with co-morbidities) to be vaccinated within two months starting in March.


South Africa, which leads the continental strategy if only because its president chairs the AU, has also just opted for a “costly” national strategy, as labeled by President Ramaphosa at the Davos Forum. The second largest African economy will in fact receive on Monday, February 1, one million doses purchased directly from the AstraZeneca laboratory at a cash price considered to be high. The rainbow nation would have paid more than 2.5 times more than the European Union. Should this be surprising, when we know that bulk purchasing promotes economies of scale and that the European Union anticipated this by participating in financing the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University?



“We have secured two billion doses from five producers, with options on more than one billion more, and we aim to start deliveries in February”. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus


This risk-taking added to a continental strategy allows Europe to benefit from a better cost of access where the African continent, forced to buy in cash, has apparently relied too much on the Covax program launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) but which remains to be fulfilled although supported by 180 countries. This WHO scheme should make it possible to vaccinate 10% of the African continent’s population during the course of the year. “We have secured two billion doses from five producers, with options on more than one billion more, and we aim to start deliveries in February,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Head of the WHO.


While waiting for Covax to materialize, major countries are advancing vaccine diplomacy. For example, Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged $2 billion funding for the African continent. French president Emmanuel Macron is multiplying statements of good intentions. Russia, through the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RFPI), says it has had its Sputnik 5 vaccine licensed by Guinea and Algeria.


Africa is clearly seeking its way between Pan Africanism, nationalism, diplomacy and international charity. The major beneficiaries of the situation are laboratories that developed the vaccine. This is the case of the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is rapidly producing millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine, Covishield, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for India and much of the developing world.




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