Covid-19: African Union begins shipping J&J vaccines to countries

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A healthcare worker holds a syringe of Covid-19 vaccine.
A healthcare worker holds a syringe of Covid-19 vaccine.
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty

African Union officials said on Thursday that the body had begun shipping Covid-19 vaccine doses acquired from Johnson & Johnson, but they raised alarm at the pace of total deliveries to a region where only 1.5% of people are fully vaccinated.

The AU's Covid-19 special envoy Strive Masiyiwa said the start of the J&J shipments marked a step forward for the continent of more than 1.3 billion people, but in a news conference he called Africa's situation regarding vaccine deliveries a "crisis".

Africa remains in the grip of a third wave of the pandemic, and in the past four weeks the continent has recorded a 2% increase in cases and a 6% increase in deaths.

Masiyiwa said the global vaccine-sharing facility known as Covax had told the AU in January that it planned to ship 320 million doses to African states by August.

READ | World bank announces deal to fund production of 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in SA

"We didn't get them," he said.

As of Monday, African nations had received a total of 103 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from all sources, John Nkengasong, head of Africa's disease control body, told the same virtual news conference.

"The WHO (World Health Organisation) yesterday at a meeting informed us that the actual shipments (from Covax) were less than 13 million" to date, Masiyiwa said.

The global partnership Covax was intended to get shots in arms of people in poor countries whose governments were unable to afford and negotiate deals for vaccines early on.

It has been plagued by delays including the halt of vaccine shipments from India amid a catastrophic surge of cases there. The United Nations-backed Covax has said it has also struggled with funding shortages and bureaucratic hurdles in its effort to independently purchase doses.

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