Stepping Up SADC members join queue to access COVID-19 vaccine

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Windhoek - Southern African Development Community member states have started signing up for the COVAX Facility that seeks to ensure equitable access to future COVID-19 vaccines regardless of a country’s income level.

At least five countries from the region are understood to have formally stated their preparedness to participate in the facility that is steered by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the WorldHealth Organisation (WHO).

The organisations are pooling resources so that less developed countries are not trampled in the stampede to secure doses of potential new coronavirus vaccines.

Rich nations have already pre-ordered millions of doses of potential vaccines that are still under development and there are fears that less well-off members of the comity of nations will not easily access the medication.

COVAX has so far raised US$700 million of its targeted US$2 billion in seed funding from high-income countries, private sector contributors and philanthropists.

COVAX is one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, launched in April by WHO, the European Commission and France.

The aim is to bring together governments, health organisations, vaccine manufacturers, scientists, the private sector, civil society and philanthropists to come up with innovative ways of guaranteeing equitable access to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

The coalition of WHO, CPI and manufacturers is meant to procure enough vaccine doses to protect vulnerable populations.

Forty-six African countries are eligible to benefit while eight others, because of their income levels, are expected to contribute to the pooling of resources to assist the less well-off.

WHO also says both low and high-income nations that have no bilateral deals with manufacturers will get access through COVAX.

WHO health promotion officer in Namibia, Celia Kaunatjike, this week said many SADC countries would be among the beneficiaries of the initiative.  

“Namibia submitted an expression of interest letter in August to officially join the global process or commitment,” she said.

Namibia’s Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Kalumbi Shangula said the country remained optimistic a vaccine would be found, but adherence to virus control protocols and health regulations remained paramount.

Botswana, Mauritius, Seychelles and South Africa are also understood to have submitted expressions of interest in COVAX.

WHO says African countries have so far secured about 220 million doses of potential vaccines, which is less than what some individual Western nations have secured but is nonetheless a start.

I’m a statement, WHO Africa region chief Dr Matshidiso Moeti said, “COVAX is a ground-breaking global initiative which will include African countries and ensure they are not left at the back of the queue for COVID-19 vaccines. By reaching beyond the continent to work together with other governments and manufacturers on a global scale and pooling buying power, countries can protect the people most vulnerable to the disease in Africa.”

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