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Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Gayle E. Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security, and David Marchick, Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. Ms. Smith and Mr. Marchick will discuss the United States’ support for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and production on the African continent.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ms. Smith and Mr. Marchick, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing.
If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on twitter @AfricaMediaHub.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Gayle E. Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security. Ms. Smith, your opening remarks.
Ms. Smith: Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for all the great work you’re doing to cover this important and really vital story. Let me just provide a little bit of background on our strategy on the response to COVID, and particularly vaccines. The United States is mounting a comprehensive response on everything from the vaccine side to the humanitarian impacts and the longstanding economic impacts. This involves multiple agencies and departments from across the federal government.
For obvious reasons, vaccines and the urgency of vaccine delivery is the top of our agenda right now. On that front, we are doing several things. First, we are the largest donor to COVAX, the international vaccine platform that is delivering all over the world. Second, President Biden has announced that we are sharing 80 million vaccine doses from our own supply, and we will be sharing more. Those vaccines are now in the process of delivery to various countries and will continue to roll out over the coming days and weeks. The President also announced just prior to the G7 summit that the United States is purchasing and will donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Even as we do those things, we’re quite concerned about the availability of supply and want to do what we can to ramp up that supply so that as many countries as possible can be covered as quickly as possible. One part of that is urging the major producers to increase their production, and a second, very vital part of that which we want to talk to you about today is doing what we can to increase local production so that there’s more availability in more places.
For that, let me turn it over to my colleague, David Marchick, to explain an exciting and very important announcement from us. David?
Mr. Marchick: Great. Thanks so much, Gayle, and thanks to everybody for joining. And again, I thank the reporters for covering this important issue. I want to give just my kudos to Gayle. She’s doing a fantastic, extraordinary job in her role as Coordinator of Global COVID Response. She is advising both the President and the Secretary of State on all of our global issues related to this, and it’s been an honor and privilege to work with her. And Gayle has helped architect our strategy for manufacturing around the world in developing countries.
So I’m pleased today to be with you to share some details about the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s, or DFC’s, work to finance vaccine manufacturing and distribution globally, and especially in Africa. And this is a particularly important initiative to help Africa develop manufacturing in Africa for Africa.
So I think that everybody is aware of the extraordinary threat that COVID-19 poses to the lives and livelihoods in Africa, with 4.7 million confirmed cases so far and unconfirmed cases much likely higher. One of the challenges in Africa is not enough manufacturing, challenging logistical and supply chains, and limited resources to produce or obtain vaccines. That’s why today, we’re announcing that our agency, the Development Finance Corporation, in cooperation with the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, our French colleagues, and our German colleagues – the German development bank and the French development bank, which are called DEG and Proparco – will together provide long-term, stable financing to Aspen Pharmacare to better enable them to support the pandemic response in South Africa and, importantly, across the continent.
So our consortium of development finance institutions will provide a direct loan to Aspen to, among other things, strengthen their balance sheet with long-term financing, support vaccine production, and expand their operations with core operations based in South Africa. Now, this loan will help them increase capacity to support Aspen’s efforts to produce vaccines for the continent this year and next year.
This production will help meet the African Union’s goal of 400 million doses of Stringent Regulatory Authorization or World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. And I would say that our work today shows the power of collaboration with the IFC and with our partners in France, in Germany, and Africa. It comes at a critical time because Africa has the lowest rate of vaccination on the – in any region, 1 percent of Africa’s 1.1 billion people. And this is the second manufacturing announcement we’ve had of manufacturing in developing countries. We’ve already backed a company in India called Biological E to help them increase capacity and produce at least a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next year, and we have other projects in the works, including in Africa.
So this is a critical initiative that will allow Aspen to help ramp up productions, have long-term, stable debt, and help fulfill President Biden’s goal of ending the pandemic. So thank you very much and we’re happy to take any questions.
Moderator: Thank you, Ms. Smith and Mr. Marchick. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: the United States’ support for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and production on the African continent.
Our first question will go to Mr. Joe Bavier of Reuters in South Africa, a question that was sent in to us. “To what extent is the U.S. Government coordinating with the EU to support the development of regional manufacturing hubs in Africa, and what is it doing in the areas of financing, skills development, and tech transfer?”
Mr. Marchick: Great. That’s a great question. And I was talking to someone yesterday about this, and the person said that it’s not enough to help others with the recipe; they also need the lessons on how to cook. And that basically means that the technology transfer and skills development is critically important, and our efforts focus on financing transactions where there can not only be financial support but also collaboration with private sector companies like Johnson & Johnson to help with technology transfer so that African manufacturing companies, African pharmaceutical companies can develop indigenous skill sets and capacity to help solve the COVID crisis but, more importantly and equally importantly, to help position the continent to deal with future health crises.
And so our work with European colleagues, with the IFC and others, is focused on not only driving finance but also driving capacity and helping to expand the ability of Africa to deal with challenges on its own continent.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go live to one of our participants, Mr. Leon Lidigu. Mr. Lidigu, please unmute and ask your question. State your affiliation as well.
Question: Hello, my name is Leon Lidigu from Daily Nation in Kenya. Now, I have two questions. The first question is: Africa has a cold-chain storage problem, and the challenges are still there. So how will you and your partners help in this regard as much as you are helping in the production and supply of vaccines?
Now, my second question has to do with the European Union and the green passport. As much as we are producing and consuming vaccines like AstraZeneca, what is the – India’s version of AstraZeneca – what is President Biden doing to help with the fact that the European Union is not allowing Africans to travel to some countries within the European bloc because it says it does not recognize the Covishield version, the Indian Covishield AstraZeneca vaccine? Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Sure. Thank you for those questions. And remind me, your first question is on the cold —
Mr. Marchick: Cold-chain storage.
Ms. Smith: Yeah, and —
Question: Yes, the cold-chain storage.
Ms. Smith: Yes, sir, and that’s a really vital question. Because these vaccines are highly effective, but delivering vaccines is a complicated process, and we’ve found that even in the United States. Now, for some of these vaccines, the cold-chain storage is easier than for others, and in many countries, like Kenya, with a long track record of delivering other vaccines over the years, managing some of those vaccines is relatively – and I’ll be careful in saying that- relatively easy because there is the infrastructure to manage that.
For those vaccines that require more sophisticated levels of cold-chain storage, we are working – excuse me – with COVAX, with UNICEF, our USAID missions are working on this, to enable that capacity in countries so that a diverse mix of vaccines can be delivered. You are absolutely right to point to it as a vital piece of the equation. That’s why we are focused on it with our partners.
On your other question about travel to Europe and European recognition, I don’t have information for you on that right now. What I can tell you is that this whole issue of international travel is one that the entire world is grappling with and is going to have to grapple with in order to ease the movement of people and hopefully return to levels of travel, whether for tourism or commerce, that we’ve achieved before, but also ensure that countries are safe. And it goes both ways, whether people travel to Africa, whether Africans travel to other parts of the world. But on the specifics of the European position on that vaccine, I’m afraid I don’t have any information for you right now.
Moderator: Okay, we’ll move on to another question. I believe we have Mr. Marvin Charles, from News24. Mr. Charles, if you’re on the line, please ask your question.
Question: Hi. I just wanted to find out how much would the financial support be that Aspen will receive. Thanks.
Mr. Marchick: Sure. This is Dave. Thank you very much, Marvin. They will receive a long-term loan of 600 million euros. And I want to emphasize “long-term” because many African pharmaceutical companies have only been able to access short-term debt, and obviously being involved in the pharmaceutical industry involves long-term investments. So this support will better enable Aspen to deal with the long-term challenges associated with health security in Africa, and ultimately our goal is to help ensure that there’s long-term, sustainable vaccine production around the world.
Let me give you one data point, which is prior to the pandemic, total global vaccine production, according to Duke University, was around 5 billion doses. That’s for everything. That’s for influenza, for yellow fever, for measles, for polio. And we know that we need 11 billion doses alone for COVID, and we – it’s unclear the frequency for boosters that we’ll need. So this is a critical long-term investment that will help create long-term, sustainable vaccine production in Africa.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to another live question from Kabugho, Evalyne. Kabugho, please unmute yourself and identify your outlet. Go ahead, Kabugho. Operator, please unmute Kabugho, Evalyne, so that that person can ask the question.
Okay, it looks like we’re having some technical issues with Kabugho. We’ll go to another question that we have from Pearl Matibe, a question sent in to us, who is with Power FM 98.7. The question is, “Can you comment on reports that Zimbabwe is not accepting vaccines through the African Union or COVAX and shed light on additional countries with a similar approach? How many or which countries are in the same boat?”
Ms. Smith: Sure. I will take that. We are working closely with both COVAX and the African Union. Our experience to date is – has been that there is a tremendous demand, as I am sure you all know very well from your own reporting, for vaccines across the continent. There may be some countries that do not wish to accept vaccines. Hopefully they will change their minds over time because, again, I think we all know that our individual and national safety depends upon our regional, continental, and indeed, global safety.
So whether Zimbabwe has refused the delivery of vaccines from the African Union, I think, is between them and the AU, but again, our experience has been that the demand from African countries is very high and we’re doing everything we can to meet as much of that demand as possible.
Moderator: Thank you. Let’s see if we can get back to Evalyne Kabugho back on the line. Can you please ask your question? And hopefully we’ve figured to unmute. Thank you. Go ahead. Evalyne Kabugho, you’re live. Ask your question.
Okay. Clearly some more technical issues. We will go back to questions – of questions that we have. We have a question from Jesse Johnson James of the Uganda Radio Network. His question is, “President Museveni earlier on revealed that Uganda was developing its vaccine for COVID-19, but later said the process was slowed down following the directive from the ‘Western power.’ My question is: Can any country develop its vaccine and be approved by WHO? If so, what are the steps to be followed?” And it sounds like this is more of a question for WHO, but I’ll ask my panelists nonetheless.
Ms. Smith: Sure. I am not WHO, but I can give you a bit of an answer. And I think it’s a really important question because, obviously, we want to see the development of as many vaccines as possible. The other thing we want is to make sure that there’s a level of safety and also efficacy. So in other words, that we know if a vaccine is 50 percent effective, 75 percent effective, whatever it may be.
The process there is that when countries or companies develop vaccines, the WHO requests certain data and information in order to review them for safety and efficacy so that it can take a position, because any of us would want to know not just from WHO but from our own regulatory agencies whether a vaccine is safe and effective. So that’s what the process is for, again, once we have a good vaccine, ensuring that it’s got a stamp of approval from the WHO and what’s called emergency use authorization, and then also, as I said, countries before they deliver a vaccine, their regulatory agencies also approve it.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we’ll go to another question in our Q&A from Flavia Nassaka, a journalist in Uganda. The question is, “Is the U.S. allocating any funding for vaccine development in Uganda? If yes, how much?”
Mr. Marchick: So I can take that, Gayle. So what we’re doing —
Ms. Smith: Yes.
Mr. Marchick: — is looking across the world to find opportunities to back manufacturing of vaccines both for short-term and medium-term objectives. The short-term objectives would be to ramp up vaccine manufacturing as quickly as possible of COVID-19 vaccines, to get shots in arms as quickly as possible to solve and resolve the pandemic. So, as you know, President Biden and other leaders have said that we need to vaccinate – the goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of the global population. That means around 11 billion vaccines. And our effort is focused on doing that, so short-term.
The medium-term goal is to invest in additional manufacturing capacity around the world in multiple countries, in multiple regions, in small countries and large countries, and with different technologies. So, as you know, there are different technologies for vaccines. There’s viral vector. There’s mRNA. And we want to support flexible manufacturing of different technologies so that different regions are able to adjust and pivot to deal with different diseases in the future. So that means that we’re looking at multiple countries around the world, both for short-term, immediate reasons, and also for medium- or longer-term sustainable manufacturing capacity.
Moderator: Thank you. Next we will go to a question – we will go to Mr. Prosper Ndlovu from The Chronicle in Zimbabwe, a question sent in to us. “There is growing concern over COVID-19 vaccine inequity with the Western world and the United States being accused of not giving adequate support for the developing world to produce their own vaccines. What is your reaction to this?” And my immediate response is that this is the reaction to this, but please, give us your reactions on that question.
Ms. Smith: Yeah. Let me say something and then turn it over to Dave. One of the things that we have found in this pandemic is that we really do need to go the extra mile to ensure that we’ve got diverse production and availability of vaccines. And I would say, just as our moderator just said but Dave can add here, that that’s why a fundamental part of our strategy is expanding supply, delivering doses from our own stock, and we will soon start delivering to Africa, but also, as is the heart of this press call, building that local capacity so that we diversify around the world.
Dave, you may want to say a bit more because this is a broader strategy of DFC than just this particular deal, as excited as we are about this one.
Mr. Marchick: Yes. So it’s a great question. Thank you very much. And I would say that we are seized with the issue raised in the question in the Biden administration. It’s something that President Biden cares about deeply. It’s something that drives the work that Gayle and I do every day. And we’re focused on both access and equity.
And this initiative directly addresses the latter issue and focuses on getting regional manufacturing capacity, both in the short term and in the intermediate term, for vaccines. This is an initiative that is going to substantially increase the capacity of Africa to develop and manufacture vaccines in Africa for Africa. And as I mentioned, the financing of Aspen will help enable them to better meet the African Union’s goals of 400 million vaccines as quickly as possible.
So this initiative goes directly to the question, and we have other things we’re working on to further that initiative. And I’ve mentioned, we’ve already invested in a company in – we’ve already announced our investment in a company in India, which will enable that company to produce more than a billion doses of vaccines for the developing world. This is our second initiative, and we have more to come. And I would also say that President Biden is very, very focused on working with our allies in Europe and the multilateral banks to drive capital, technology, and know-how to support development and manufacturing of vaccines in the developing world.
Moderator: Thank you. I know that we already shared the amount of the loan, but I’m not sure we gave specifics in the breakdown. So can you share the figures? What’s coming to Aspen from the American DFC, the IFC, and from the German and French counterparts? Can you give us the breakdown?
Mr. Marchick: Sure. It’s a 600 million euro loan, and the IFC is supporting about 200 million, we’re supporting about 100 million, and the Europeans are somewhere in the middle. And so we’ve been working collaboratively, and we made commitments based on need. And we have other initiatives in the works as well, and I mentioned this follows our other investment that we’ve already announced in a company in India. So again, the focus is to drive vaccine manufacturing in multiple regions of the world, in small and large countries, and with different technologies. And this is the second transaction what we’re announcing and there’ll be more to come.
Moderator: Thank you. The next question goes to Simon Ndonga from Capital FM in Kenya. His question is coming from our Q&A: “When is the consignment to Kenya due to be sent in, and how much of the vaccines will be shipped?” Again, a lot of our journalists want to know specifics for the countries that they’re involved in.
Ms. Smith: Sure. Sure.
Moderator: Go ahead. Ms. Smith?
Ms. Smith: Sure. Happy to take that one, and it’s a really good question and we’re really thrilled to be able to be delivering vaccines. And again, we’ll have more to say about that soon because we’re working with the African Union and COVAX on getting broader delivery across the continent.
Let me explain a little bit about the way this works, is that it would be great if we could simply put the vaccines on a plane and they would arrive the next day. But for some of the reasons that I explained before to the gentleman who had the question about vaccine approvals, in order to share a vaccine, we and the country in question – in this case Kenya – have to go through several legal and regulatory steps to make sure that vaccine is approved and authorized in Kenya. There’s probably four or five legal and regulatory steps.
So our operational teams are in touch with the governments in question. Together we work through all of those steps to make sure that we can jointly confirm the safety of the transaction and the movement, and then the vaccines are shipped. The countries that have recently been notified, including Kenya, are now going into that process. So a joint operational team will be set up between the U.S. and Kenya. That process usually takes several days, maybe a week, maybe a week and a day, and then the vaccine’s shipped.
So hopefully you’ll be seeing those vaccines arrive very soon after the Kenyan Government and our government work together to check those boxes on the regulatory and legal side. It’s a fairly fast process, and we are moving vaccines out at a pretty good clip right now. And with the President’s support and encouragement, we’re going to move them all as quickly as we can.
Moderator: Fantastic. Thank you both so much. That’s all the time that we have for questions. I would like to ask our principals if they have any final words. Ms. Smith?
Ms. Smith: Sure. Let me just add one feature of this story that I find really, really important. I think that the investment that DFC is making, as David has rightly pointed out, is going to increase the supply very, very quickly – I mean, within 2021 and going into 2022. Importantly, these are vaccines that will be produced in Africa for Africa.
But I would also point you to the long-term impacts of this. I think, as you all know, Africa imports by far the majority of its vaccines, therapeutics, and medical supplies. The AU and many governments, and indeed citizens, have pointed out that this is a problem and that change is wanted and warranted. And there are plans for building the capacity across the continent for greater global health resilience.
So we see this investment as, in the short term, a really valuable response to the urgent need on the continent for vaccines for COVID. But also, and importantly, as a long-term investment in the capacity of the continent to increase its own production of these vital goods so that there’s greater availability and resilience over time. So it’s a short-term investment with a long-term vision.
Moderator: Thank you. Mr. Marchick?
Mr. Marchick: I could not have said it better, so I will not say anything. Gayle perfectly summed it up. Thank you, everybody, for doing this.
Moderator: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Gayle E. Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security, and David Marchick, Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, for joining us. And thanks to all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Thank you so much, everybody.
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