By late January 2021 not a single African country had received vaccines and the road map to vaccination in Africa was unclear. Yet despite the vaccine nationalism that continues to grip the world, African countries managed to improve their access to vaccines through a combination of diplomacy and structured finance techniques. This article explains how this was made possible and explores some of the legal issues that have plagued (and continue to plague) all countries seeking to acquire COVID-19 vaccines.
A global pandemic requires a global solution. The world cannot afford for any country to be left behind in the vaccination drive. Yet this was exactly what was happening in Africa. While wealthy nations were using their negotiating power to buy up more vaccines than they needed, many lower income countries were left to rely on COVAX, a donor funded vaccine sharing scheme which is designed to provide lower income countries with free or heavily discounted vaccines.
While COVAX is a much-needed initiative, its implementation has been slower than expected and its capacity is limited to the provision of vaccines for only 27% of the populations in eligible countries. This is far lower than the minimum target of 60% that international health bodies estimate countries will need in order to have a minimum level of protection to engage in normal life.
To ensure that Africa receives swift access to vaccines, the continent as a whole is negotiating, procuring and paying for vaccines centrally through a newly created special purpose vehicle (SPV). This innovative Pan-African approach to procurement is unprecedented and a potential game-changer not only for Africa, but also for other countries who may find themselves marginalized at the international negotiating table.