Africa's CDC Director 'Optimistic' U.S. Will Release COVID Vaccines Soon

Africa's CDC director Dr. John Nkengasong said he was "positive and optimistic" the hold on 1.1 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa would be lifted soon during a press conference Tuesday.

The U.S. placed a hold on the doses, which are currently detained at a plant, following suspicions of contamination at a Baltimore factory. Nkengasong said there will be more transparency on the "findings from the manufacturing site" by the end of the week.

Following lagging vaccine shipments throughout the continent exacerbated by the J&J hold, the Mastercard Foundation announced Tuesday it would funnel $1.3 billion in purchasing and providing doses for residents of Africa. The Toronto-based nonprofit said it would obtain J&J vaccines using the African Union's discounted rate for 220 million vaccines with the developer.

Nkengasong told the Associated Press the Mastercard Foundation's philanthropic work is "a moment that I characterize as transformational in our ability to fight the war against this pandemic."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Africa Vaccines
In this June 3, file photo, an elderly patient receives a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Orange Farm, near Johannesburg. Mastercard Foundation, one of the largest foundations in the world, announced June 8, it will spend $1.3 billion over the next three years to acquire and deliver COVID-19 vaccines for more than 50 million people in Africa. Denis Farrell/AP Photo

"We will engage the countries to understand their vaccination plans, and see exactly where to fit in," Nkengasong said, adding the partnership with the foundation will also help deploy the 220 million J&J doses that are slated to arrive.

The foundation says the money will be used, in part, to help transport the vaccines, hold community engagement activities that address vaccine hesitancy, identify potential virus variants, train workers to improve the speed of vaccine deployments and help develop a skilled workforce that could expand vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

"We should expect good things out of this, but it's going to take time," said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. "It's not going to solve all the problems."

"Africa will soon become the epicenter for the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "It's going to reverse many of the gains that Africa made in a whole range of areas...It will devastate the African economy."

Africa has administered vaccine doses to 31 million people out of its population of 1.3 billion. But only 7 million have received both doses, the WHO's Regional Office for Africa said last week.

Health officials have been raising alarms about the dire situation, and urging richer countries to share their remaining vaccines. The White House said last week the U.S. would allocate 5 million doses to Africa through the United Nations-backed COVAX program as part of a plan to share 25 million doses worldwide.

"I do hope other foundations, and more governments, step up to help the continent," said Gostin.

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Algeria Vaccine Site
People wait to receive a dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a walk-in vaccination centre in the Bab el-Oued district of Algeria's capital Algiers on June 7. Ryad Kramdi/AFP via Getty Images