Africa’s top public health agency has agreed on a memorandum of understanding with Pfizer to bring supplies of the pharmaceutical firm’s Paxlovid antiviral COVID-19 pills to the continent, its director said on Thursday.
Data from a mid-to-late stage study in November showed Paxlovid was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths compared to placebo, in adults at high risk of severe illness.
John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also said it was still talking to Merck MRK.N about obtaining supplies of its molnupiravir COVID pill and a call was scheduled for this week about that.
“For the Pfizer situation, we have the MOU. The memorandum of understanding is with the legal office at the AU (African Union),” said Nkengasong. The Africa CDC is an AU agency.
“Once that is cleared we will formally make an announcement with Pfizer and provide details,” he told an online media briefing.
A World Health Organization panel last week backed the use of molnupiravir for high-risk patients such as the immunocompromised, the unvaccinated, older people and those with chronic diseases.
Merck’s pill has been in lower demand than the Pfizer medication because of comparatively low efficacy and potential safety issues for certain groups.
South Africa’s government has said it was not planning to buy Merck’s pill for cost reasons, despite the drug gaining approval from the country’s health regulator.
Nkengasong said African countries should be using a combination of public health measures, vaccines, testing and the Pfizer and Merck treatments in their efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic this year.
“These molecules have a very unique role to play in a campaign to fight against this terrible pandemic,” he said.
Nkengasong expressed a concern about countries where vaccination rates were still very low, which include most African countries, saying people should not be complacent as the virus still posed a grave risk.
“Of course the war going on in Ukraine has taken a lot of attention away from COVID, which is unfortunate because COVID has now killed close to 6 million people,” he said.
“If the deaths of 6 million people don’t shake us, then I don’t know what can shake us in our humanity.”