Failure to vaccinate Africa

The UN Covax program has provided several doses to Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected. Why? Here’s everything you need to know.

How does universal vaccination work?

By some metrics, very good. In less than a year, more than 8.3 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed globally, and 55% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. But this monumental effort has left the undeveloped world behind – particularly in Africa. Only 6.6 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of the vaccine. In Africa, where the Omicron variant was recently discovered, only 7.5% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated. Most of the different doses of the vaccine have already been shipped to wealthy countries in Europe and the US, which have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on early orders; Millions of people in these countries are now getting their third shot – sparking accusations of vaccine hoarding. “We are looking at a situation where high-income countries would continue to use frequent boosters, while those in the United States will continue to use boosters,” said Alexandra Phelan, an adjunct professor of public and global health law. low-income countries don’t even have their first dose.” ethics at Georgetown University.

What are the consequences?

In the Global South, a scarcity of vaccines means more illness and death, along with economic damage to societies already engulfed in poverty and hunger. Unvaccinated populations can also become breeding grounds for novel coronavirus variants that are spreading around the world. Harmful variants can mutate in unvaccinated or immunocompromised populations, such as large numbers of untreated HIV-positive people in southern Africa. The Delta variant has spread out of control this year in India, where vaccination rates at the time were low. Now experts fear we are entering a vicious circle where rich countries order boosters to protect against variants developing in poor countries where they don’t have access to vaccines.

What causes the uneven distribution?

The World Health Organization’s Covax program, which is backed by the United Nations, has largely failed to deliver on its promise to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccines by 2021 to countries in need. There are several reasons for the shortage. One is that India – which is believed to have produced most of the doses for Africa – stopped exporting vaccines when the country was hit by a catastrophic COVID wave in April. Second, transferring doses from airports in Africa to syringes in weapons has proven difficult. About 40% of the vaccines shipped to Africa so far have not been used, and thousands of doses have expired and been discarded. Third, pharmaceutical companies have delivered only 12% of the promised 994 million doses to Covax, according to an October report by the People’s Vaccine Alliance. Covax officials have accused pharmaceutical companies of prioritizing rich nations over making commitments to Covax. “We need more transparency from the industry, so it will be clear if other countries or buyers are lining up,” said Covax CEO Aurélia Nguyen.

Does giving up a patent help?

Some advocates insist drug companies must do more by giving up patents on their vaccines. In May, the US joined Russia and China in calling for a temporary ban on intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, which could help low-income countries ramp up their own vaccine production. . But opponents, including the European Union and pharmaceutical companies themselves, argue that the patent exemption will discourage costly innovation in research. And it could take years for developing countries to gain the ability to produce their own vaccines, meaning the waivers won’t have an immediate impact. Regulators also cited global vaccine hesitancy as a reason not to produce generic versions of their vaccines, particularly the improved mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech. export. “People want to be sure that the vaccines they receive are of the same high quality as we have here in the Western world,” said BioNTech’s medical director Özlem Türeci. Critics dismiss this as an excuse to prioritize profits over public health.

Unable to ship excess vaccine abroad?

Vaccines must be kept in cold storage – especially Pfizer mRNA shots – and expire quickly once thawed, so you can’t refill unused doses at your local pharmacy and fly to Botswana. In addition, many developing countries cannot find people to transplant. The same week Omicron was discovered, South Africa delayed the delivery of vaccine shipments because officials were unable to use vaccines already in stock. That is partly due to vaccine procrastination, and partly because the world is currently facing a shortage of 1 billion to 2 billion syringes.

Can global vaccine production be promoted?

Yes, but it will require time, money and patience – all of which are in short supply. At least 12 COVID vaccine production facilities have been established or are in the process of operating in six African countries, some of which will “fill and perfect” imported vaccine for production. hundreds of millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson, China’s Pfizer, Sinovac, and Russia’s Sputnik V by the end of 2022. BioNTech has announced it will build production hubs in Rwanda and Senegal, but the continent is still years away. could produce enough of its own vaccine to immunize most of the population. “This is too little, too late,” said independent public health consultant Rohit Malpani in the BioNTech announcement. “Nothing should have stopped BioNTech from doing this a year ago.”

This article was first published in the latest issue of Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try the magazine’s six risk zeros here. Failure to vaccinate Africa


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