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Africa: Second Covid-19 Dose in Sight As US Donates 80 Million Vaccines to COVAX

Kenya and other African countries waiting to receive their second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine can now breathe a sigh of relief after the United States committed to provide at least 80 million Covid-19 vaccines to Covax -- the global Covid-19 vaccine equity scheme -- before the end of June.

In a statement on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US would donate 80 million US vaccines, including the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines previously announced, and an additional 20 million doses of US-authorised vaccines.

"The United States will work with Covax and other partners to ensure these vaccines are delivered in a way that is equitable and follows the science and public health data. The United States will not use its vaccines to secure favours from other countries," Ms Psaki said.

"The US will continue to donate from our excess supply as that supply is delivered to us. Today's announcement is the administration's next step as we ramp up our efforts to respond to Covid-19 around the world."

The Biden administration further said that over the coming weeks, it will use its leadership working with the G7 partners, the EU, Covax, and others to coordinate a multilateral effort focused on ending the pandemic.

"Specifically, we seek to garner concrete, deliverable commitments from other governments and private sector partners to make available more vaccines, spur production and manufacturing for vaccines and raw materials, get shots into arms around the world, and provide health security assistance to save lives, stop the spread of Covid-19, reduce the lifespan of this pandemic, and recover economically," said Ms Psaki.

Share vaccine doses

The news from Washington comes as a relief for a majority of African counties, Kenya included, that were depending on the Covax facility to administer their second shots of the vaccines, but which now remain unavailable, after India blocked exports. US now joins France and Sweden in donating shots to Covax, having vaccinated most their priority populations.

In April, Kenya revised the duration between the first and the second does from eight to 12 weeks in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, as it sought to buy more time to receive the second dosage from Covax.

On Monday, Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore, whose agency distributes vaccines for Covax, urged EU states and G7 nations to share their doses.

"G7 nations and 'Team Europe' group of European Union member states could donate around 153 million vaccine doses if they shared just 20 per cent of their available supply over June, July and August. Sharing immediately available excess doses is a minimum, essential and emergency stop-gap measure, and it is needed right now," said Ms Fore.

G7 leaders are due to meet in the UK next month. By then, Covax will find itself 190 million doses short of its planned target, according to Unicef.

"The soaring domestic demand in India has meant that 140 million doses intended for distribution to low- and middle-income countries through the end of May cannot be accessed by Covax. Another 50 million doses are likely to be missed in June. This, added to vaccine nationalism, limited production capacity and lack of funding, is why the roll-out of Covid vaccines is so behind schedule," Ms Fore said.

On Friday, the WHO also urged rich countries to reconsider plans to vaccinate children and instead donate these shots to the Covax scheme that shares them with poorer nations.

"I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now, I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to Covax," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual meeting in Geneva.

The Covax scheme has so far delivered more than 60 million doses, but is currently struggling to meet supply targets, mostly due to the Indian export restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine as Delhi battles its deadliest wave yet of the pandemic.

Administer second dose

On Friday, the Health ministry said the country would start administering the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the first week of next month.

"The ministry has revised the interval period for the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine to 12 weeks. This means the country will begin administering the second dose of the vaccine in June," the ministry said in the statement, adding that to secure the second dose of the vaccine as fast as possible, the government was "closely working with Covax."

Kenya indicated that it was going to run out of the first batch of the Covid-19 vaccines before the first week of June. In March, it received 1.25 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, out of the 3.6 million it was expecting.

"We have used up 91 per cent of our doses, and will run out by the first week of June," said Dr Willis Akhwale, the chair of Kenya's vaccine task force.

Doctors in Kenya say a vaccine shortage will cost lives. Kenyans eager to get vaccinated have been turned away from vaccine centres in recent weeks, after a number of hospitals ran out of doses. The country has recorded more than 3,000 Covid-19 deaths.

As a result of the shortage, the government is working on securing 30 million Johnson and Johnson doses by August.

Though the first African countries started vaccinating their populations in early March, the WHO says fewer than 1 per cent of global vaccinations had been carried out on the continent and that at least eight African countries have exhausted their supplies from Covax.

[Source: All Africa, Washington, 23May21]

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small logoThis document has been published on 25May21 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.