African countries are signing up to an initiative aiming to secure for the continent millions of doses of a potential novel coronavirus vaccine once it is licensed and approved, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

At a news conference on access to a COVID-19 vaccine, WHO Program Area Manager Richard Mihigo said that once a vaccine is licensed and approved, COVAX would work to secure at least 220 million doses of the vaccine for Africa.

Mihigo, the head of the organization’s Immunization and Vaccine Development in Africa, said it was important to start working with “communities to prepare the way for one of the largest vaccination campaigns Africa has ever experienced.”

COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, according to health partnership Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“COVAX is a ground-breaking global initiative which will include African countries and ensure they are not left at the back of the queue for COVID-19 vaccines,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, was quoted in a statement as saying.

Richard Hatchett, chief of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said it was “critical that countries in Africa participate in vaccine trials, in addition to the clinical trials taking place in other regions of the world.”

Mitoha Ondo’O Ayekaba, deputy minister for Health and Social Welfare in Equatorial Guinea, praised the COVAX initiative.

“Equatorial Guinea has signed up to COVAX as it’s the most effective way to ensure that our people can access COVID-19 vaccines,” he said. “We believe that through this initiative we can access successfully tested vaccines in a timely manner and at lower cost.”

Africa has been witnessing an overall drop in the rate of infections from the coronavirus, John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a separate briefing.

The continent has so far recorded over 1.2 million cases, including more than 30,000 deaths and recoveries exceeding 1 million, according to a daily update by the Africa CDC.

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