In an interview on CNN’s One World with Zain Asher, Dr. John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), discussed efforts for the continent to ramp up its own vaccine production.
Africa imports 99% of the vaccines it uses and Nkengasong believes that this makes the country too dependent on external help, “I think it is very obvious now that Africa has to take its own vaccine security into its hands”.
He explained that this method of vaccine procurement is particularly difficult during a pandemic, “Of the 99% of vaccines that we import, 70% come from India and that cannot be sustained in a pandemic environment, as we are seeing currently with the situation with AstraZeneca vaccines, which have been banned from being exported from India.”
The CDC and the African Union have announced an “ambitious timeline” to have Africa able to produce 60% of the vaccines that it consumes by the year 2040. Nkengasong argued that this time frame is “very achievable” because institutions across the continent are committed to the goal, “The continent has been mobilised both on the political front and the financial front and also on the policy making front. The African Development Bank, the Afreximbank, all continental financial bodies, are ready to step in and begin to work with us so that we move this important agenda forward.”
Nkengasong also spoke about the issue of vaccine shelf life, with many countries’ slow rollouts leaving them facing the problem of expiring vaccine doses. The CDC Director said his organisation is “encouraging countries to use their vaccines quickly” and that this problem will subside once countries have established their vaccination programmes, “Use their vaccines and roll out their vaccination programs before you even cross the shelf life of these vaccines. The need is there. Despite the hesitancy we know countries like Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, where the vaccine uptake has been spectacular, they are now in need of the second round of vaccines from the AstraZeneca, but that speaks to the fact if the vaccines are available, they will be rolled out in a timely fashion.”