The Biden administration has announced that it will ship 25 million doses of Covid vaccines to 49 countries across Africa through the Covax jab distribution scheme, as infections and deaths on the continent rise dramatically.

The US State Department’s coordinator for Covid-19 recovery and global health, Gayle Smith, announced the plan in a statement on Friday, saying it was being made “in partnership with the African Union and COVAX.”

Great news! 25 million US-donated #COVID19 vaccines will soon be on their way to Africa via #COVAX, working alongside @_AfricanUnion & @afreximbank. A huge thank you to @GayleSmith, @POTUS and the US administration for making these vital doses available.

It was also announced that one million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine are set to arrive in Burkina Faso, Dijibouti and Ethiopia in the coming days.

The vaccines will be delivered through COVAX, a scheme set up to tackle vaccine inequality and run jointly by Gavi, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The director of the African Union’s Center for Disease Control, Dr John Nkengasong, heralded the deal, calling it “a proud moment for Africa in ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.” The African Union’s special envoy, Strive Masiyiwa, similarly echoed praise for the US supplies, saying that the deal had been signed at a crucial moment “when we are witnessing the third wave in African countries.” 

On Thursday, the WHO warned of the alarming rate of Covid-19’s spread across the African continent, stating that the death toll had surged by 43% in one week, while one million cases were recorded in the span of one month. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, warned that hospitals in the most vulnerable regions are “reaching a breaking point,” struggling to cope without adequate medical equipment to treat Covid patients.

Washington’s recent pledge to donate some 80 million of its vaccine doses to other countries – a figure which includes this latest tranche to African states – is a marked reversal of its earlier policy banning the export of vaccine materials. A spokesperson for the Biden administration said at the time that prioritizing the vaccine roll-out in America wasn’t just a domestic interest, but “in the interests of the rest of the world.”

Despite the COVAX scheme’s efforts to help tackle the inequalities in access to Covid vaccines, out of Africa’s 1.3 billion population, only 1.5% are fully inoculated, according to data from WHO Africa published on July 15.

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