In Brief: African Union to distribute first million doses of COVID-19 vaccines next week

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A health care worker holds a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by: Ricardo Moraes / Reuters

The African Union expects to start distributing 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to about 20 nations next week, said John Nkengasong, director at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are hoping that before next Friday delivery will start going out to member states,” he said, during a press call.

These vaccines were donated to the AU through a partnership with MTN Group Ltd., Africa's largest mobile network by subscribers. The company donated $25 million, which will be used in supporting health worker vaccination.

MTN’s donation will pay for up to 7 million doses, with these 1 million doses as the initial batch distributed, he said. The vaccines were produced by the Serum Institute of India.

Distribution will be  based on factors such as population size, Nkengasong said.

Why it matters: While the African Union has been working to procure doses for member states, this will be the first distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by the agency.

“That will be the first attempt to try to reach out to about 20 countries with vaccines, and then that would at least enable us to start vaccinating our health care workers,” Nkengasong said.

What’s next: “You should see the first 1 million as just the beginning. So we start shipping and it will be a continuous process until we hit the 7 million target that MTN had supported,” Nkengasong said.

Other AU efforts include the procurement of 670 million vaccine doses through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team which countries can obtain using advance procurement commitment guarantees through the African Export-Import Bank — rather than donations. Donald Kaberuka, a member of the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, told Devex that so far 27 countries have submitted applications to purchase doses. Once the countries and the bank finalize the financing arrangements, deliveries will start.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a Global Health Reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.