THE recent pledges of COVID-19 vaccines from a number of rich Western countries towards assisting poorer countries to acquire enough doses of the vaccines to roll out their vaccination campaigns are edifying. By making new commitments to effectively end the COVID-19 pandemic through sharing of vaccine and increasing funds to the COVAX facility, world leaders have effectively risen to the challenge against the pandemic.
COVAX is the global mechanism established by the World Health Organisation, WHO, for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines to the poorer countries. COVAX is at the risk of missing the target of deploying 336 million doses by June 2021 and up to two billion doses by end of the year.
The COVID-19 death toll on the African continent has surged since the onset of the second wave of infections and virtually all African countries have been struggling to obtain vaccines.
Already, a big COVID-19 vaccine divide exists between the rich and poor countries. There is no equity in vaccine availability, acquisition or distribution.
The rich Western countries have bought up the bulk of available vaccine doses, with many countries amassing doses to vaccinate their populace several times over.
Morally, it is wrong for the rich countries to buy up vaccine supplies thereby making it even more expensive for developing countries to access the vaccines. During the recent virtual G-7 meeting, President Emmanuel Macron of France urged Europe and the US to quickly send enough vaccine doses to Africa to inoculate the continent’s healthcare workers or risk losing influence to Russia and China.
Efforts to ensure equitable allocation of vaccines to countries around the world are welcome. We, however, urge the superpowers not to politicise the issue of vaccine equity.
The primary intention should be for all the countries to have equitable access to vaccines, whether or not this access comes from the West or from Russia and China should not be the issue. As one of the leading donors to the COVAX programme, the European Union’s offer to double its financial assistance up to $1.2 billion to help deliver the vaccines to poor nations is also praiseworthy. During the G-7 meeting, the President of the European Union’s Executive Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, announced an additional $121.4 million to support vaccination campaigns in Africa in partnership with the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The measure will help strengthen health systems, ensure robust cold-chains, purchase equipment, train staff and build up COVID-19 vaccine production capacity in Africa. Just as COVID-19 has proved to be a common enemy to every country irrespective of their economic and industrial standing, efforts to beat it must be uniformly undertaken.