US to send first COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa

The U.S. will begin making its first COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Africa in the coming days, with the ultimate goal of sharing 25 million doses this summer across the continent in partnership with the African Union.

The first donated doses will be sent to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Burkina Faso, said State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter, with the U.S. working with the COVAX global vaccine alliance. In all, doses will eventually go to 49 African countries.

According to the White House, Djibouti and Burkina Faso will each receive 151,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine, while Ethiopia will receive 453,600.

"The United States has partnered with Sub-Saharan Africa’s nations for decades, working alongside African governments, regional institutions, civil society and others on the continent to foster opportunities and address global challenges," said NSC Senior Director for Africa Dana Banks. "The COVID-19 pandemic is no different."

Nongovernmental organizations praised the Biden move to begin vaccine sharing with Africa, but warned doses aren't arriving quickly enough to slow deadly outbreaks.

"As many wealthy countries return to normal, Africa is returning to lockdown," said Tom Hart, the acting CEO of the ONE Campaign. "Many of these cases and deaths could be prevented by one thing: access to vaccines. The Biden administration’s announcement is a good next step, but the reality is that Africa needs 200 million doses by the end of September to stem this crisis."

The shipments come as part of an initial supply of 80 million doses that President Joe Biden had pledged to send out to the world by the end of June, though deliveries were slowed by regulatory and logistical hurdles in recipient countries. They mark the Biden administration’s down payment on a plan to buy and donate 500 million more doses for the world over the coming year.

To date the U.S. has shipped more than 53 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 30 countries and territories.