Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr’s commitment to share COVID-19 vaccines with the world is becoming a reality in Africa with the first 25 million doses beginning to arrive and even more coming from the pledge he made at the G7 summit in the United Kingdom last June.
The first shipments of the donated doses to Africa follow from the pledge made by President Biden in May to share 80 million doses globally, including 25 million doses to African nations.
“We’re in the process of delivering the 25 million doses, working closely with the African Union, governments, and COVAX to get these on the ground as quickly as possible,” Gayle E. Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security, told reporters at an online briefing on Wednesday. “I’m also pleased to tell you that in August, the doses that the President committed just before the G7, 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, will also start moving in August, and a significant portion of those will also be deployed to Africa.”
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Ms. Smith, who was joined by Akunna Cook, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, held the briefing to discuss partnerships and U.S. leadership and contributions in the global effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic, including the recent U.S. donation of approximately 25 million COVID-19 vaccines to the African Union.
Ms. Smith, citing the low vaccination rate in Africa, the continent’s third wave and the raging Delta variant, asserted that the Biden administration will do everything it can in partnership with the people and governments of Africa to get the vaccines to those in need.
“So we’re pleased to be working with partners in Africa – again, governments, civil society, healthcare workers and organizations, the African Union given its prominent role, the Africa CDC – to move these vaccines out there as quickly as possible,” she said.
Pressed by Today News Africa in Washington D.C. to provide details on the allocations for Africa from the President’s half a billion doses he pledged at the G7 Summit in the UK, Ms. Smith said “Africa will receive a significant portion.”
She said the 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine will be donated to nations around the world through COVAX, the World Health Organization’s initiative that aims to provide vaccine to developing countries, many in Africa.
“And the way that works is they do allocations every month and at a given time period. And the reason they do that is they need to look around the world, see what the levels of vaccine availability are, what incidence is – they’re also aiming at equity – and then they make the allocation. So I can’t give you an exact number. The first 60 million of those doses will be deployed in August,” she said. “What I can tell you is that Africa will receive a significant portion, both because we recognize that coverage is still low even with our shared doses, with the doses that the AU has procured and others, but also because in the President’s announcement of these doses, his focus was very much on what are called the AMC countries under COVAX and the countries of the African Union, because there are some African countries who are not members of COVAX. So we’re deliberately trying to put a focus on the continent. So it will be a good number, but we’ll only be able to tell you that incrementally.”
On Monday, the White House announced the donation of one million vaccine doses to The Gambia, Senegal, Zambia and Niger. Those doses are part of the 25 million does going to Africa from the first 80 million shots President Biden pledged to donate to the world last May.
“The United States continues its tremendous efforts to donate COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S. global supply. Today, we can announce that we have over a million Johnson & Johnson vaccines headed to Gambia, Senegal, Zambia, and Niger,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced at the beginning of her briefing on Monday.
She also announced a donation of three million vaccine doses by the United States to Guatemala on Tuesday, describing it as a continuation “our prioritization of Latin American countries.”
“As these shipments demonstrate, the United States is fulfilling our promise to be an arsenal of vaccines for the world, and we’re proud to be donating these doses to save lives and help those in need,” Psaki said.
On Friday, the U.S. government announced that following close collaboration between the African Union (AU)/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), COVAX and the United States Government, AU Member States were set to receive approximately 25 million COVID-19 vaccines to enhance coverage across the continent – contributing to the AU target of vaccinating at least 60% of the African population.
The first shipments, planned for the coming days, will see nearly a million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine delivered to Burkina Faso, Djibouti, and Ethiopia.
In total, approximately 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be made available to 49 African countries in the coming weeks. The African Union/Africa CDC, AVAT, AFreximbank, COVAX and the US Government have collaborated in the process to support countries’ access to COVID-19 vaccines and readiness for delivery.
Asked on Wednesday what criteria are used to pick countries for allocations, Ms. Smith said the U.S. government looks “at a number of things.”
“We look at coverage of the vaccines. We look at the vulnerabilities, i.e. what we know about the state of the pandemic in a given country. We look at what may be available elsewhere. And then we allocate accordingly,” she said. “One of the reasons that we spread this first tranche of doses so far and wide across the continent is that coverage is universally low, so we want to start building that up as quickly as possible.”
On why the Biden administration was donating vaccines to Africa, Akunna Cook, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said it was part of “the long record of U.S. cooperation with African partners in enhancing Africa’s health security, whether through PEPFAR, the President’s Malaria Initiative, the Global Health Security Agenda on Ebola, maternal and child health, and so many other areas.”
“All of this is part of our commitment to Africa’s health infrastructure, an infrastructure that is helping us meet the demands of this COVID response,” Ms. Cook said.
She added that “extensive U.S. investments in sub-Saharan Africa in health, over $100 billion over the past 20 years, have saved millions of lives, but more importantly, have strengthened the resiliency of health systems.”
According to her, around two-thirds of U.S. foreign assistance to Africa remains focused on the health sector.
“Africa is a priority for this administration, and we are proud of the resiliency that African nations have demonstrated in the face of this pandemic. We remain committed to becoming – to staying a leading partner in African countries’ response to pandemics and infectious disease outbreaks,” Ms. Cook said.