As U.S. Steps Up, Europe Holds Back, Africa’s Vaccine Czar Says

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Shipments of Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines donated by the U.S. to Africa will arrive next week, said Strive Masiyiwa, the telecommunications billionaire tasked with helping the African Union secure shots.

The doses are set to arrive as the number of cases in Africa doubles every three weeks and the continent is on the verge of exceeding its worst week of the pandemic.

“The U.S. government has really stepped up,” the 60-year-old businessman and philanthropist said in a briefing Thursday. “We’ve been meeting almost on a daily basis with the U.S. government and their officials, working through the details of shipments.”

Almost 80% of the shots available in Africa have been put into arms. Still, supplies are scarce and less than 1.1% of the 1.2 billion population is fully inoculated, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention. While Africa is the world’s least-vaccinated continent, the U.S. and U.K. have fully inoculated almost half their populations.

President Joe Biden’s government has given $4 billion to Covax, the vaccine-sharing initiative upon which much of Africa is reliant. That facility has used the money to buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Africa’s struggle to get enough vaccines is partly because of its limited production facilities, Masiyiwa said.

Still, while there are vaccine-making facilities across Europe, “not a single dose, not one vial has left a European factory for Africa,” he said. “Now is the time for Europe to open up its production facilities so that we can buy vaccines.”

Masiyiwa, who founded Econet Group Ltd. in Zimbabwe in 1998, is not new to sourcing funding during a health crisis. In 2014, the African Union asked him to mobilize resources for Africa’s response to the Ebola outbreak.

“When we’ve gone to talk to their manufacturers they tell us they are completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe,” he said. “So Europe has to go decide. You can’t say you support us, when they’ve vaccinated so many of their own people that they can now watch football without masks and our people have not been vaccinated.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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