by Charmaine Ngatjiheue

DESPITE Namibia’s medium-income status, which disqualifies the country from accessing grants, it will be forking out millions to access a new trial vaccine.

Covax will be on trial in 54 African countries.

The vaccine, called Covax, will be on trial in 54 African countries.

About eight medium to high-income African countries, including Namibia, will have to pay for the vaccine, while 46 poor to very poor countries on the continent will receive it at a subsidised fee.

Namibia in August expressed the country’s interest in officially joining the global move to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.

Minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula could not divulge the exact amount Namibia would have to spend on the vaccine, although the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the country needs to pay 15% before the end of September to benefit from the trial programme.

“Namibia is participating in the Covax process for the acquisition of vaccines against Covid-19 once it becomes available. The cost of the vaccine will only be known once it has been developed and priced,” the minister said.

Shangula remains skeptical about the availability of the vaccine before the payment deadline.

“How does one pay before the price is known. I am sure there will be no vaccine in September,” he said.

The vaccine is a global initiative which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The partners are working with governments and manufacturers to procure enough vaccine doses to protect the most vulnerable populations on the continent.

Through the Gavi-coordinated Covax facility, the initiative seeks to ensure access for all – both higher and middle-income countries which will finance their own participation, and lower-middle income and low-income countries, whose participation will be supported by the Covax Advance Market Commitment (AMC).

This expression of interest will turn into binding commitments to join the initiative by 18 September, with upfront payments to follow no later than 9 October 2020.

To date, the Covax AMC has raised approximately US$700 million (N$11,9 billion) against an initial target of securing US$2 billion (N$34 billion) funding from high-income donor countries, as well as the private sector and philanthropists by the end of this year.

WHO health promotion officer in Namibia, Celia Kaunatjike, on Friday said the Ministry of Health and Social Services would have to pay 15% of the estimated cost by the end of this month to ensure the country is an official Covax beneficiary once the vaccine is available.

“The country submitted an expression of interest letter in August to officially join the global process or commitment. However, as an upper middle-income country, Namibia does not qualify for Gavi support,” she said.

According to the WHO in a statement on Friday, African countries, through the initiative, aim to secure at least 220 million doses of the vaccine for the continent once licensed and approved.

“Covax is a groundbreaking 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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

Cepi is leading research on the vaccine and aims to develop up to three safe and effective vaccines which will be made available to participating countries.

Nine candidate vaccines are currently supported by the coalition, of which two are being tested in South Africa and other regions around the world.

“It’s critical that countries in Africa participate in vaccine trials, in addition to clinical trials taking place in other regions of the world,” Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of Cepi, said.

He said testing vaccines on the continent ensures that sufficient data is generated on the safety and efficacy of the most promising vaccine candidates for the African population so they can be confidently rolled out in Africa once vaccines are approved.

“Cepi is investing in the research and development of a diverse range of vaccine candidates, with the aim of delivering safe and effective vaccines to those who need them most through Covax,” he said.

Through the trial, vaccines that have passed regulatory approval or WHO prequalification will be distributed equally among all participating countries, proportional to their populations.

Healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations will be prioritised.

“To roll out a vaccine effectively across countries in Africa, it is critical that communities are engaged and understand the need for vaccination,” said Dr Richard Mihigo, the programme area manager of immunization and vaccine development, at the WHO’s regional office for Africa.

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