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Botswana dodges bullet as India suspends vaccine exports

MBONGENI MGUNI
COVISHIELD dose PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
The country's COVID-19 vaccination programme is expected to remain on track despite the Serum Institute of India (SII) this week’s announcing it will stop exporting doses to Africa and other countries for the next seven months as the virus ravages its home country.

SII, which has the capacity to produce 70 million COVID-19 vaccines monthly has been the single biggest provider of vaccines under the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility, the 180-country scheme designed to equitably share vaccines. The scheme was jolted on Tuesday when SII chief executive, Adar Poonawalla said the earliest the vaccine producer would resume exports would be at the end of the year. As the news reverberated around the world, it emerged that Botswana is only one of five African countries insulated from the freeze in production. Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius and Libya are self-financing their participation in the COVAX facility and thus will not be receiving their supplies from India, but from other AstraZeneca producers in Europe and South Korea.

Botswana and the four other countries have paid directly to participate in COVAX, while the other countries are funding their obligations partly through donors and third-party loans.  The country received 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in South Korea on March 28, out of the total expected 100,800 doses paid for. Confirming this arrangement this week, a GAVI spokesperson told Mmegi that more doses were due to arrive in Botswana by end of next month. GAVI is the Bill Gates-funded NGO partnering with the WHO on COVAX. “COVAX expects that all countries allocated the AstraZeneca vaccine in the February/May allocation round should receive allocated doses by the end of June provided there

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are no further delays from the manufacturer,” the spokesperson said in response to e-mailed questions.

“This is a month later than originally planned due to challenges scaling up manufacturing.

“The target remains to have 76 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca delivered between February and June to supply up to 80 countries.” Botswana made a US$7 million (about P70m) down payment to COVAX last November and frustration grew as the bulk of other countries who were supported by donors and loans, received part of their COVAX allocations ahead of self-financing countries. The speed of deployment to non-self financing countries was driven by SII which churned out millions of doses, while production in Europe and South Korea was held up. Besides COVAX, Botswana has also reportedly clinched deals with manufacturers such as Moderna, Pfizer and others to cover up to 1.9 million people.  The country also has the option of doses from the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, which in turn has secured 270 million doses for the continent. Botswana paid US$3 million (about P30m) to participate in the African Union scheme, while nearly all other African countries will have to arrange payment through the Afreximbank.

On Wednesday, Mmegi emailed questions to the Presidential COVID-19 Task Team on the latest developments but was yesterday referred to the Ministry of Health and Wellness where officials could not be reached for comment by press time.



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