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US Official Says Getting Vaccines to Africans is 'Top Priority'  


Tanzanian officials and US Ambassador to Tanzania Donald Wright at Julius Nyerere International Airport receive a consignment of COVID-19 vaccine, donated by the US, shipped by Emirates through the AU COVAX facility.

The Biden administration is in the process of delivering 25 million vaccine doses to African countries in a massive effort to help African nations beat the COVID-19 pandemic. VOA's Hayde Adams, the host of "Straight Talk Africa," spoke with Akunna Cook, the U.S. deputy assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, about how the effort is going. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: These are difficult times all over the world In Africa, only about 1% of the continent's population is fully vaccinated. Please tell us more about what the United States is doing to get much needed vaccines to African countries and where those doses are going first.

COOK: It's a pleasure to be with you, particularly talking about this topic of ending the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a top priority of the Biden-Harris administration. The president has been very clear that we have to approach, vaccine, vaccine contributions around the world with the same urgency that we have here in the United States, and so we are working tirelessly to get out this first tranche of 25 million doses to Africa. We have already, in the past two weeks or so, donated the first five million doses into 16 African countries. Burkina Faso and Djibouti were among the first.

But there's many more coming... We will be delivering the largest sum of doses to any country, to South Africa at, 5.6 million doses, and then to Nigeria at just over four million doses coming up.

FILE - A worker looks on as the second delivery of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is offloaded at the O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb. 27, 2021.
FILE - A worker looks on as the second delivery of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is offloaded at the O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb. 27, 2021.

And so this is just the beginning. This are the initial tranche. We remain the largest contributor to (global vaccine distribution scheme) COVAX and are committed to getting vaccines out as quickly as possible because we know that we cannot end this pandemic anywhere until we've ended it everywhere.

VOA: The World Health Organization says Africa needs about 200 million doses to vaccinate 10% of its population by September this year. Is the United States prepared to do more? Is this a once off donation?

COOK: So our vaccine contributions are, what, multitiered and multilayered, right? So these initial this initial tranche of 25 million, it's the first step. But we are also doing other things including supporting vaccine manufacturing on the continent. And so we have invested in vaccine manufacturing in South Africa and in Senegal to ensure that Africa can then produce its own vaccines moving forward. We are also providing economic assistance to countries that have been impacted by COVID-19 with over $541 million in assistance to respond to the economic aftereffects of the pandemic. And so this is just the beginning. This is an initial tranche of our assistance. And I'm sure that we will see more rolling out over, over the next couple of months.

FILE - A man with a cough but who had not been tested for the coronavirus uses COVIDEX, a locally-made herbal medicine approved by the government for use as a supportive treatment for viral infections, in Kampala, Uganda, July 6, 2021.
FILE - A man with a cough but who had not been tested for the coronavirus uses COVIDEX, a locally-made herbal medicine approved by the government for use as a supportive treatment for viral infections, in Kampala, Uganda, July 6, 2021.

VOA: Something we are seeing in the United States and something that is very prevalent across the African continent is misinformation around vaccines. There is a lack of trust as people feel that in the past, Africans, have been used as guinea pigs for scientific experiments, and of course there was an element of that here in the United States as well. What is your message to people in Africa about taking a vaccine coming from the West? How can they feel safe to trust the vaccines?

COOK: Well, you know what I will say is we absolutely acknowledge that there have been past reasons for there to be distrust here in the United States and around the world. But it is absolutely the case that these vaccines are safe and they are effective. And we are working to disseminate best practices, including working with trusted messengers to get the word out that these vaccines are safe and they are effective, and that is absolutely critical that populations around the world including here in the United States, avail themselves of these vaccines so that we can end this pandemic once and for all.

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