African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) playing a major role in combating COVID-19 in Africa

The African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) was set up in November 2020 by Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa, in his capacity as Chairperson of the African Union (AU). Presiding over a teleconference meeting to discuss Africa’s strategy for financing COVID-19 vaccines on November 7, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa established the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy. President Ramaphosa stated during the meeting that while Africa has made remarkable progress in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a need to implement an effective vaccine strategy, with a focus on acquisition and financing, in order to fully control the spread of the virus. He also stressed that Africa should take appropriate measures, as part of the strategy, to secure timely access to COVID-19 vaccines when they become available and in this respect, the AVAT assumed a key role.

The primary objective of the AVAT is to secure vaccine doses to complement initiatives such as COVAX and attain a target immunization of 60 per cent of Africa’s population. The AVAT acts as a centralised purchasing agent on behalf of the AU Member States, to secure the necessary vaccines and blended financing resources for achieving Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy which targets vaccinating a minimum of 60% of Africa’s population based on a whole-of-Africa approach.

The AVAT’s main partner institutions are the African Union’s Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The UNICEF will also procure and deliver COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the AVAT to the AU Member States, with the additional opportunity to provide supplemental logistics and related services for countries that request it.
The initiative complements the COVAX Facility’s aim of ensuring rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. In July 2021, UNICEF signed the first operational framework agreement to supply COVID-19 vaccine doses for all 55 Member States of the AU in 2021.

Since its inception, the AVAT has been playing an important role in securing doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the countries in Africa. On 28 March 2021, the AVAT signed the historic agreement for the purchase of 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses. Ramaphosa welcomed this agreement and called it a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans. “It is also a powerful demonstration of African unity and of what we can achieve through partnership between the state sector, the private sector and international institutions that puts people first”. Ramaphosa remarked.

On August 5, 2021, Cyril Ramaphosa announced the start of monthly shipments of vaccines acquired by the AVAT to the AU Member States. It was stated that the monthly shipments will continue and be continually ramped up, with a target of delivering almost 50m vaccines before the end of December 2021. As part of this monthly shipment, 108,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccines were delivered to Botswana on August 12, 2021. Strive Masiyiwa, the African Union Special Envoy said: “Delivering our first doses to African Union Member States is an unprecedented milestone. We are deploying relentless efforts to help each Member State to reach its goal of immunising 60 per cent of Africans, as recommended by the Africa CDC. Johnson & Johnson AVAT-purchased single-shot vaccines will enable us to considerably improve our vaccination level across the continent”.

On September 3, 2021, the AU stated that through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), it had worked with the AVAT to secure 12,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for staff members of the African Union Commission (AUC), the AU Embassies in Addis Ababa and their dependents. Commenting on this achievement, the AU Special Envoy and AVAT coordinator Strive Masiyiwa said: “We are pleased that we have been able to secure these vaccines which were paid for through donors through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust”. Masiyiwa also confirmed that Ethiopia had placed a large order of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines for its citizens through the AVAT.

By Dr. Pawan Mathur

Photo Credit : https://twitter.com/AfricaCDC/status/1434927387880349696