AFRICAN UNION INITIATIVE

Kenya may access South Africa-made Covid vaccine from July

Johnson & Johnson jab is single dose and was 64 per cent effective in South Africa

In Summary

• Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, said: “This transaction enables Africa to meet almost 50 per cent of that target."

• The African Export-Import Bank will facilitate payments by providing advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to $2 billion to the manufacturers.

Abigail Owilla, a nurse, administers Covid-19 vaccine to a health worker at Mutuini Hospital, Dagoretti, on March 9, 2021
Abigail Owilla, a nurse, administers Covid-19 vaccine to a health worker at Mutuini Hospital, Dagoretti, on March 9, 2021
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

A Covid-19 vaccine made in South Africa could be deployed in Kenya any time from July.

This will shore up vaccination figures in Kenya, where only 30 per cent of the population will have received any jab by 2023, according to current projections.

The country is now  looking to the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (Avat), which two weeks ago signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to acquire 220 million doses of its single-shot vaccine, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.

Most of the supplies will be produced at the giant pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in South Africa.

The direct acquisition of vaccines by the AU is part of a continental objective to achieve a minimum of 60 per cent immunisation in Africa in order to eliminate Covid-19.

Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, said: “This transaction enables Africa to meet almost 50 per cent of that target. The key to this particular vaccine is that it is a single-shot vaccine which makes it easier to roll out quickly and effectively, thus saving lives.”

Avat is a 10-member team drawn from across the continent, and was established in August 2020 to ensure Africa would secure sufficient vaccine doses to achieve herd immunity.

The African Export-Import Bank will facilitate payments by providing advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to $2 billion to the manufacturers on behalf of the member states.

Other orders for vaccines come from Pfizer and Sputnik V.

According to the Ministry of Health, at the current rate by 2023 only 30 per cent of Kenyans will have received the jab.

Last week, Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that deliveries from the initial tranche to Africa should kick off in the third quarter of 2021, while the remaining doses will be supplied through next year.

Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine was prequalified by the World Health Organization last month, also hopes to pledge to Gavi for the Covax facility.

The phase three data J&J submitted for its emergency use authorisation to WHO showed the vaccine was 66.1 per cent effective overall at preventing infection and 85 per cent effective at preventing severe disease.

However, in South Africa the vaccine was only 64 per cent effective. Its efficacy in the US was 72 per cent and 66 per cent in Latin America.

On Saturday, doctors called on the Ministry of Health to help improve vaccine uptake.

They also opposed the commercialisation of Sputnik V and other Covid-19 vaccines, saying they will be priced out of reach for millions of Kenyans. 

The Kenya Medical Association said the commercialisation of the Sputnik V vaccine went against the government's assurance that the vaccines will be free or available at an affordable fee.

“This has set a dangerous precedent that can result in the vaccines being priced out of the market and leaving out more than 40 per cent of Kenyans who live below the poverty line,” KMA president Were Onyino said.

Edited by Henry Makori