African countries no longer want vaccine donations on short notice after China pledges billion doses

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China has offered to deliver another billion Covid-19 vaccines to Africa, but AU member states say they no longer want ad hoc donations.
China has offered to deliver another billion Covid-19 vaccines to Africa, but AU member states say they no longer want ad hoc donations.
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  • AU member states say they no longer want ad hoc donations with little notice and short shelf lives.
  • As a default, donated doses should have a minimum of 10 weeks shelf life when they arrive.
  • China has promised to build 10 health projects in Africa and deploy 1 500 health experts to the continent.

China has offered to deliver another billion Covid-19 vaccines to Africa, but AU member states say they no longer want ad hoc donations "with little notice and short shelf lives".

Speaking at the opening of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) via video link-up on Monday, China's President Xi Jinping said his country would donate 600 million doses of its flagship Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, while an additional 400 million doses would be provided through bilateral arrangements with AU countries.

So far, China accounted for 200 million Covid-19 vaccines supplied to Africa and was the single biggest global vaccine manufacturer.

The Economist Intelligence Unit puts China's share of the market at 50%.

China's pledge coincided with the discovery of the new Omicron variant which resulted in travel bans imposed on southern African countries.

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In a joint statement issued by the AU Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), member states said over 90 million doses were delivered via bilateral arrangement, but that administering them had proven extremely challenging.

"... the majority of the donations to date [has] been ad hoc, provided with little notice and short shelf lives. This has made it extremely challenging for countries to plan vaccination campaigns and increase absorptive capacity."

The AU said:

Countries need [a] predictable and reliable supply. Having to plan at short notice and ensure uptake of doses with short shelf lives exponentially magnifies the logistical burden on health systems that are already stretched.

In June, Zimbabwe turned down three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. Harare did not have the storage facilities needed for the vaccines, drawing criticism at a time when there was a vaccine shortage.

The AU said numerous member states faced human resources, infrastructure, and cold chain constraints.

With China set to donate the vaccines from next week, the AU said donated vaccines should have a minimum 10 weeks shelf life.

"As a default, donated doses should have a minimum of 10 weeks shelf life when they arrive in a country, with limited exceptions only where recipient countries indicate a willingness and ability to absorb doses with shorter shelf lives," said the AU.

Malawi destroyed 20 000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, while South Africa rejected 191 000 Astra Zeneca doses which were redirected to South Sudan and they arrived just 14 days before the expiry date, and as such 59 000 doses were destroyed.

The Democratic Republic of Congo returned 1.3 million doses. All this had resulted in the AU now wanting the donor community to announce its intention to donate a month before doing so.

"Recipient countries need to be made aware of the availability of donated doses not less than four weeks before their tentative arrival in country," the continental bloc said.

The African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) collaborated with donor countries, vaccine manufacturers, and partners in the rollout in Africa.

As such, the AU member states said the two organisations should plead with the donor community for ancillaries when making donations.

"The majority of donations to date do not include the necessary vaccination supplies such as syringes and diluent, nor do they cover freight costs - meaning these have to be sourced separately, leading to additional costs, complexity and delay.

"Donated doses should be accompanied by all essential ancillaries to ensure rapid allocation and absorption," said the AU.

Meanwhile, Xi said at the Focac summit that the Asian giant would also build 10 health projects in Africa and deploy 1 500 health experts to the continent.

Lenin Ndebele is the News24 Africa Desk journalist. The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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