COVID-19 vaccines didn’t become widely available in Senegal until the end of March 2021, months later than many other countries. Since then, Senegal has depended on outside donations to maintain its stock, which on several occasions has been depleted.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to end his five-day visit to the continent in Senegal, highlighting America’s efforts to help the country manufacture its own vaccines.
Blinken is scheduled to visit Dakar’s Pasteur Institute, which has recently received tens of millions of dollars from foreign partners to help with vaccine production. The funds include a $3.3 million U.S. contribution.
Currently, Africa imports 99% of all its vaccines.
“And critically, we want to support these companies so they can make vaccines, not only COVID vaccines, but other vaccines, in Africa for Africa, not only help to end the pandemic, but also to help build capacity to deal with future health challenges,” says David Marchick, chief operating officer of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.
In addition to financial support, the U.S. plans to provide technical expertise, Marchick expressed. The hope is that Senegal will eventually produce vaccines for export to other countries, he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. has donated nearly 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Senegal and allocated nearly $10 million to help the country fight coronavirus misinformation and aid in vaccine distribution, among other efforts.
As of Wednesday, about 8% of Senegal’s population had been vaccinated against COVID-19, or more than 1,300,00 people, according to the Ministry of Health. In the U.S., about 60% of the population have been vaccinated, or more than 195 million according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Dr. Ousseynou Badiane, coordinator of the expanded immunization program with Senegal’s Ministry of Health says that if Senegal can manage to decentralize vaccine production and produce the vaccine locally, it would not only improve the availability of the vaccines but facilitate procurement and eliminate transportation costs.
Secretary Blinken’s visit comes on the heels of the U.N. climate summit, known as COP26, where the U.S. pledged to move away from fossil fuels.
While in Senegal, a State Department statement said Blinken was to participate in business-related events, but it did not mention that he would be involved in climate-related discussions. The environment was on the agenda during his visit to Nairobi, the statement said.