To understand the problem of global inequalities in COVID vaccines, Consider these statistics: âWe have passed the 3 billion vaccine dose mark (globally), and yet only 0.3% of those went to low-income countries. Of the 2.6 billion tests performed worldwide, less than 4% of them were administered in Africa. And yet, we represent over 17% of the world’s population.
These are the words of Mmamoloko Kubayi, acting Minister of Health of South Africa four months ago.
His concern illustrates why some public health experts believe parts of Africa may not have access to COVID-19 vaccines until 2023 – as Americans now reject the doses readily available to them.
Kubayi’s fear and unrest is shared by other world leaders, including Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, co-chair of the African Union’s African COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Alliance.
“As the world races against the clock in a bid to overtake the coronavirus, it appears the race is staged in favor of the rich nations and the richest people,” she said at a recent event in line sponsored by the Africa Health Agenda International Conference. âThe media is currently inundated with images of world leaders, health workers and vulnerable people receiving this long-awaited vaccine in their armsâ¦ but for many of the world’s poorest people there is no vaccine in the immediate future and similar images of many parts of Africa and Southeast Asia may be quite remote.
Thanks to the COVAX initiative, more vaccine doses are reaching Africa, but the statistical comparison shows the persistent inequality. Nigeria received 3.92 million doses of the vaccine for its population of more than 210 million people, while the United States in May vaccinated 3 million people. per day.
âWhere is the fairness in that? Olatunbosun-Alakija asked. âWe need to have a conversation about fairness. â¦ Until we are all safe, none of us can be safe.
Although his comments were made four months ago, the situation has yet to change much for the better. The Our World in Data tracking website reported on July 18 that 26.2% of the world’s population received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 3.63 billion doses administered worldwide and 29, 73 million administered every day. Yet only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
Many Africans who wish to be vaccinated cannot, either because they cannot afford the cost on their own or because they do not have access to the free vaccines donated by countries like states. -United or groups like the World Health Organization and its COVAX initiative. COVAX was launched “to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to ensure fair and equitable access for all countries of the world.”
Inequalities in immunization continue to cause preventable deaths, Kubayi said, and slow the defeat of the global pandemic.
The latest data on GAVI, the website of The Vaccine Alliance, showed as of July 15 that more than 119 million COVID-19 vaccines had been shipped to 136 countries, including 27 in Africa. These include Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Comoros, Togo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.
For example, Nigeria received 13.6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and just under 4 million doses were delivered to the country. And Ethiopia has received 7.6 million doses, of which 2.1 million.
But half of the 54 countries of the African continent are not yet covered by the COVAX initiative.
Why should Americans care?
This huge gap in vaccine fairness exists despite the Biden administration‘s commitment of more than 80 million doses of vaccine in about 50 countries, including countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
Americans and other citizens of the world who already have access to vaccines should be concerned about the plight of the world, said Anna Mouser, head of vaccine policy and advocacy for Wellcome, a global charitable foundation: âThe (vaccine) imbalance is shocking, not just because of its moral failings, but also because it will impact our ability to end the pandemic. We know that a global deployment of a vaccine is essential to control the virus, so we need to clarify this case. “
Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, agreed. âThe only way to end the pandemic and improve all of our lives is to make vaccines available to everyone. I prefer to vaccinate certain people in each country than all people in certain countries. Vaccinating a large number of people in a small number of countries will not end the pandemic and, in fact, will encourage the development of new variants that may escape these same vaccines. “
Global travel disruption
This inequity also affects world travel, as vaccination has become a kind of passport to the world. Those who do not have access to vaccines therefore face all kinds of obstacles in their attempt to move from one place to another.
In an article for American scientist, Steven W. Thrasher points out that “borders in some countries are currently used to determine who gets a vaccine or not.”
And then in turn, those virus-controlled borders limit the ability of some to work, said Judy Stone, infectious disease specialist and author. âAn ongoing and uncontrolled pandemic will cause further economic havoc as billions of people are unable to work and travel and risk the emergence of more virulent mutations. “
âViruses do not recognize borders. No one is safe until we are all safe.
She added: âWe need to realize that we are all in the same boat and work together to ensure global equity in access to vaccines and medicines. Viruses do not recognize borders. No one is safe until we are all safe.
An example of how COVID has become a stumbling block for travelers from Africa is the travel order issued in June by Emirates, the official airline of the United Arab Emirates. The company initially banned passengers from Nigeria and South Africa from traveling to the United Arab Emirates through its airline. Passengers from the two African countries, as well as those from India, the second most populous country in the world, had previously been banned by Emirates from entering the country due to concerns over COVID.
Emirates then lifted the ban and announced that flights from the three countries would resume on June 23, only to be reversed soon after by reintroducing the travel ban. The airline’s website currently indicates that inbound flights from the three countries remain suspended until July 21 this year.
Religious leaders speak out
As African leaders multiply diplomatic appeals to richer countries to come to their aid, a coalition of religious leaders in the United States is adding its voice to the call for equity in vaccines. At an event scheduled for July 20 in Washington DC, religious leaders plan to mourn the lives lost to COVID-19, then call on President Biden and other world leaders to share vaccine recipes and step up their efforts to make COVID vaccines easily accessible to underprivileged countries, particularly in the South.
Religious leaders should urge the US President and Congress to invest $ 25 billion in a program that would establish vaccine manufacturing centers and train personnel around the world to mass produce vaccines and make them easily affordable for everyone. people.
And there are reasons for hope, according to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO: âThere are signs of hope. Countries are starting to share vaccines through COVAX, but we need more and we need them faster. The COVAX Facility Advanced Market Commitment is fully funded for 2021, but the vaccine supply forecast still carries significant risks. The announcement of a new mRNA manufacturing center in South Africa is a positive step forward, but we need manufacturers to help us by sharing their know-how and accelerating the transfer of technology.
And he added: âAlthough we have made progress in controlling the pandemic, it remains in a very dangerous phase. Our only way out is to support countries in the equitable distribution of PPE, tests, treatments and vaccines. “
Doing it, he said, will not be “rocket science or charity.” It’s smart public health and in everyone’s best interest.
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