African nations gave a stark reminder to the world leaders at the UN General Assembly meeting about vaccine hoarding. The African leaders that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, as the developed and wealthy countries begin to consider whether they need a third jab of the vaccine, African countries are still in line to receive their first.
The message that ‘no one is safe until we are safe’ was repeated throughout the day as the inequity of vaccine distribution came into sharp focus. As of mid-September, less than 4% of Africans have been fully immunized and most of the 5.7 billion vaccine doses administered around the world have been given in just 10 rich countries.
In the General Assembly Chad’s president Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno warned of the dangers of abandoning the countries behind, Itno said, “The virus doesn’t know continents, borders, even fewer nationalities or social statuses,”
“The countries and regions that aren’t vaccinated will be a source of propagating and developing new variants of the virus. In this regard, we welcome the repeated appeals of the United Nations secretary-general and the director-general of the (World Health Organization) in favour of access to the vaccine for all. The salvation of humanity depends on it,” he added.
South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa pointed to vaccines as “the greatest defence that humanity has against the ravages of this pandemic.”
Ramaphose added, “It is, therefore, a great concern that the global community has not sustained the principles of solidarity and cooperation in securing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” he said. “It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82% of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries.”
Namibia President Hage Geingob called it “vaccine apartheid,” a notable reference given the country’s own experience with apartheid when neighbouring South Africa’s white minority government-controlled South West Africa, the name for Namibia before its independence in 1990.
“There is a virus far more terrible, far more harrowing than COVID19. It is the virus of inequality,” said the president of the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan.
Lack of access to vaccines is not just Africa’s concern. Leaders of developing nations in different regions echoed the frustration. President Luis Arce of Bolivia, one of Latin America’s poorest nations, told assembled diplomats that biopharmaceutical companies should make their patents available and share knowledge and technology for vaccine production.
Acre said, “Access to the vaccine should be considered a human right. We cannot be indifferent, much less profit from health in pandemic times,”
Earlier on Thursday, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel stressed that “hundreds of millions of people in low-income nations still await their first dose, and can’t even guess whether they will ever receive it.”
Earlier this year, U.S. President Joe Biden broke with European allies to embrace the waivers, but there has been no movement toward the necessary global consensus on the issue required under WTO rules.
While some non-governmental organizations have called the waivers vital to boosting global production of the shots, U.S. officials concede it is not the most constricting factor in the inequitable vaccine distribution — and some privately doubt the waivers for the highly complex shots would lead to enhanced production.
Angola President João Lourenço said it was “shocking to see the disparity between some nations and others with respect to the availability of vaccines.”
“These disparities allow for third doses to be given, in some cases, while, in other cases, as in Africa, the vast majority of the population has not even received the first dose,” Lourenço said.
The U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and Israel are among the countries that have begun administering boosters or announced plans to do so.
On Wednesday, during a global vaccination summit convened virtually on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Biden announced that the United States would double its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.
The WHO says only 15% of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.