IA shocking symbol of the West’s failure to deliver on its promise of equitable vaccine distribution, millions of Covid vaccines made in Africa that should have saved the lives of Africans have been shipped to Europe in recent weeks. In fact, I have learned from African leaders that this month and next, around 10 million Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-shot vaccines filled and finished at the Aspen factory in South Africa will be exported to Europe, in the very moment when Africa is struggling. with its deadliest wave of Covid-19 infections yet.
Compared to the rapid development of groundbreaking Covid vaccines, giving injections into all arms of the world should be straightforward. But vaccine nationalism – and Europe’s neocolonial approach to global health – is dividing the world into people who are rich and protected, living, and those who are poor, unprotected and at risk of dying.
Of the 4.7 billion vaccines that have been distributed globally, more than 80% have gone to the richest G20 countries. The gap between rich and poor is now so large that, while high-income countries have administered almost 100 doses per 100 citizens, low-income countries have only administered 1.5 doses per 100.
To date, 496 million vaccines have been administered in the European Union, which has a population of approximately 440 million people. Only 77.3 million doses have been administered to the entire population of Africa, which is almost three times higher, with 1.3 billion people. And so, while 50% of the adult populations in Europe, the US and the UK have already been fully vaccinated, the figure for Africa is 1.8%, far behind India, which has only vaccinated 8% of its population. Due to slow vaccine delivery, the World Health Organization (WHO) now predicts that 47 out of 54 countries in Africa it will miss even the modest September target of vaccinating 10% of its citizens. In countries like Burundi, not a single vaccine has still been administered.
At the current rate, there is no hope that Africa will reach the West’s vaccination levels this year or next. Unsurprisingly, African leaders speak of “vaccine apartheid.” As governments across the West prepare to administer booster vaccines, millions of African nurses and health workers, who risk their lives to save others, will be left totally unprotected. So will the vulnerable elderly population of Africa.
The vaccine program should have been a new kind of “arms” race. In quick succession, country after country should have been able to inject its citizens. By contrast, countries with the most vaccines are not helping those with the least, and now the damaging economic effects on employment and livelihoods are causing a growing divergence between the fate of rich and poor countries. Low vaccination rates across the continent have led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut African Economic Outlook once again, while the vaccinated west increases, and Africa is experiencing growth rates that are half those of the rest of the world.
The African Vaccine Procurement Fund (AVAT), disappointed by the West’s failure to deliver on its promises to fund 700 million vaccines in Africa by the end of the year (the multinational facility Covax has only been able to secure 60 m so far), has now taken action on the matter. It has negotiated a deal with Johnson & Johnson for 400 million single-shot vaccines. In doing so, it had to overcome resistance from the EU. It was only after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa intervened and threatened to ban all South African vaccine exports that Europe agreed that all future J&J Africa-produced vaccines could remain in Africa from October. Now, 30% of the adult population of Africa is guaranteed vaccination, although it will be until September of next year.
But vaccines are not yet available to meet Africa’s vaccination target, set at 60% of adults, or to cover that other 30% of people who were promised vaccines provided by the West. As a result, I have been told that the African Union has had no choice but to open negotiations with China to purchase at least 200 million vaccines made in China. The robberies are now so serious that a vaccine “war room” It has been created by the IMF, the World Bank, the WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to help track, coordinate and promote vaccine delivery. Despite this, only the political leadership of the G7 countries, which have negotiated vaccines well above their population, will ensure that all continents receive an adequate supply.
The world will make about 6 billion more doses of vaccines by December and increase production by many billions more next year. This supply could be enough for all countries to reach the 60% vaccination target by next summer. The problems that will perpetuate inequalities in vaccine distribution can only be solved with a level of global coordination that has so far been absent between the G7 and G20 leaders.
Two policy changes are urgently needed, which Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the G20 president, must now deliver at a special G20 vaccine summit that is due to convene next month. First, a virtuous circle must be created, beginning with guaranteed international financing from the richest countries, to support and accelerate the development of new global manufacturing capacity in the poorest countries. This would include accelerating technology transfer through licensing agreements that would benefit from a temporary exemption on vaccine patents.
Still, Africa needs vaccines immediately. As it stands, the US has chosen 1.96 billion additional doses. The European Commission has access to 1 billion additional vaccines, while Canada has secured 191 million (and at one stage had purchased almost 10 vaccines per citizen). Due to overorders, their populations will likely not use all of these vaccines, but in the process of securing preferential deals, rich countries have prevented African countries from accessing the doses they urgently need. G7 leaders must now step in to ensure supplies get to where they are most needed. Countries with oversupply must end their dominance over available vaccines and future supplies. Not only must they deliver them to Africa, but, as proposed by the IMF and four former US finance ministers, provide at least $ 50 billion in financial support through Covax and the logistical support necessary to ensure that vaccines can be administered quickly and safely.
Ensuring African populations have access to vaccines is not just an imperative for Africa. It is in all our enlightened self-interest. As Britain’s leading vaccine scientist Sarah Gilbert It has been said, the biggest threat we face is that Covid spreads and mutates uninhibited in unvaccinated countries. We must keep reminding ourselves of the reason for ensuring mass vaccination around the world: no one is safe anywhere until everyone is safe everywhere, and everyone will live in fear until no one does.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism