COVID-19 vaccines in Africa: Five things to note right now

From readjustment of the storage quality of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to suit normal medical temperature to COVAX facility securing 1.1 billion doses of Novavax vaccines, new developments are springing up with vaccine availability and application.

Below are top five of those events that affect vaccine access in Africa.

Freezing threshold of Pfizer now suitable for Africa

The capacity to store Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines between very low temperatures of minus 60oC and minus 80oC was the main roadblock that several African countries including Nigeria ran into during early considerations of vaccine option.

But the company’s latest modification on Friday has eliminated that, allowing the vaccines to be kept at normal medical freezer temperatures of minus 15oC to minus 25oC for up to two weeks.

With this, the worry over maintaining vaccine potency along the logistics and distribution routes to remote locations will be addressed as countries can adopt existing storage and distribution model for COVID-19.

Nigeria, for instance, has had to drop 100,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines earlier promised by COVAX facility for over 16 million doses of AstraZeneca due to the challenge.

Whether the development will prompt the country to push for a reverse is unclear.

A dose of Pfizer hits 92.6% efficacy

Analysis in a study by the Israeli Health Ministry and Pfizer Inc has found the Pfizer vaccine developed with Germany’s BioNTech reduces infection, including in asymptomatic cases, by 89.4 percent and in symptomatic cases by 93.7 percent.

A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) confirmed efficacy of 92.6 percent before a second dose was administered, recommending that with such a highly protective first dose, the benefits derived from a scarce supply of vaccine could be maximised by deferring second doses until all priority group members are offered at least one dose.

“There may be uncertainty about the duration of protection with a single dose, but the administration of a second dose within 1 month after the first, as recommended, provides little added benefit in the short term, while high-risk persons who could have received a first dose with that vaccine supply are left completely unprotected,” the study stated.

300m doses from Russia

Russia has offered Africa 300 million doses of its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine along with a financing package for countries wanting to secure the shots, the Africa Union said on Friday.

The Russian vaccine will be available for a period of 12 months starting May 2021. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, said some deliveries could start in May but most would be from June.

Russia joins COVAX facility and MTN among others to boost the pool of vaccines available to the continent.

1.1bn doses of Novavax

Co-lead of COVAX facility, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Novavax to supply 1.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, combined with a separate existing agreement with Serum Institute of India (SII).

Novavax vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, is part of the COVAX research and development (R&D) portfolio that the manufacturing has been pushed with investments by COVAX co-lead Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Based on COVAX’s current agreements and partnerships, Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, estimates there should be enough vaccine for about 27 percent of the population of the lower-income countries receiving the vaccine through the COVAX Facility.

$2bn COVID support from US

President Joe Biden will at the virtual G7 summit announce a $2 billion US contribution to Gavi, the international alliance behind the WHO-backed Covid vaccine financing effort for middle and lower-income countries, according to Daily Independent, US local media.

The $2 billion is an initial down payment on what will be a $4 billion US contribution to the Covax effort. That effort will spread over the next two fiscal years, with administration officials predicting that an additional payment representing a quarter of the remaining $2 billion will be made “quickly” to purchase vaccine doses.

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