As world leaders prepare to meet at the United Nations General Assembly, African public health experts on Thursday called for action to speed up the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to their continent, where, according to the Organization world health, only 3.6% of people have been fully immunized against the disease so far.
Supply shortages from Covax, the global vaccine sharing initiative, have left African countries with only half of the doses they need to reach the global goal of fully immunizing 40 percent of their population by end of 2021. Inequalities in vaccine distribution remain striking: Africa is home to about 17% of the world’s population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion vaccines administered so far have been administered in Africa, according to WHO
“As the United Nations General Assembly meets next week, I urge African leaders to call on them to ensure equitable access to vaccines,” said Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, president of the African Alliance for vaccine delivery, at an online press conference Thursday. “Ask the rich countries: where are the African vaccines? Where are the vaccines for low and middle income countries of the world? “
The rich countries of the world have provided only a fraction of the promised doses to Covax. This shortfall is one of the main reasons Covax lowered its forecast last week for the number of doses available this year. Globally, 80 percent of injections that have been given were in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Only 0.4 percent of the doses were given in low-income countries.
Another reason, experts say, is that India, with the world’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, has halted coronavirus vaccine exports as it tries to further vaccinate its own population.
“Export bans and vaccine hoarding still hold sway over the lifeline of vaccine supplies to Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Director for Africa, at the meeting. press conference. “As long as rich countries exclude Covax and the African Union from the market, Africa will miss its vaccination targets.
Dr Moeti reiterated WHO’s request that countries postpone the administration of boosters to healthy people until the end of the year, so that more doses of the vaccine can be provided to countries that still have difficulty in giving the first few doses. Yet an increasing number of countries are implementing plans for recall programs.
Dr Moeti added that African countries had dramatically increased their delivery capacity, administering 13 million doses last week, more than triple the figures from previous weeks. Even so, at their current rate, countries will not meet the 40 percent immunization target until next March, she said.