ABUJA, 21 December 2020 – African countries can either not afford or have not ordered the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine even as rich countries, like Canada, have ordered in excess of their populations.
Africa might not see vaccines until after the second quarter of 2021, lamented Dr. John Nkengasong, the director of Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Countries need to vaccinate at least 60 percent of their population in order to achieve herd immunity.
Dr. Nkengasong warned against rich countries buying vaccines “in excess of their needs while Africa” gets nothing.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance – a coalition of campaign organizations including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Global Justice Now – has condemned rich countries for “hoarding” vaccines to the detriment of poorer nations.
According to the coalition, the world’s richest nations have bought enough doses to vaccinate their entire population three times over by the end of 2021 if vaccines currently in clinical trials are all approved for use.
With only 14 percent of the world’s population, the world’s richest nations have bought up 53 percent of all the most promising vaccines so far.
Canada tops the chart of the accused.
Ottawa has secured enough doses to vaccinate its entire population five times, according to researchers at Duke University, which is keeping track of deals between governments and vaccine companies.
Compare that with Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation, Nigeria, which has so far ordered only 20 million doses in its initial effort to inoculate an estimated 196 million inhabitants.
The order placed by South Africa, the continent’s second biggest economy, would cover a mere 3 percent of the country’s 59 million inhabitants.
South Africa has suffered the 19thworst COVID-19 death toll worldwide, with about 25,000 people killed by the virus as of Saturday.
It would have been expected that South Africa would be better off given the high death toll and the fact that the Rainbow Nation is hosting three vaccine trials.
Nigeria’s Health Minister Osagie Ehanire confirmed Saturday that Nigeria expects to receive 20 million doses in January 2021.
Osagie Ehanire did not say if Nigeria will be receiving the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines.
Both vaccines secured emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the course of the first fortnight of December 2020.
Twenty million doses in the case of Nigeria and enough doses to cover 3 percent of South Africa’s population effectively represents a drop in the ocean.
No fewer than 76,000 Nigerians have been sickened by the virus which has killed at least 1,201 Nigerians with 67,000 citizens fully recovering from it.
To help poor countries secure the vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has united 189 countries into COVAX, a facility created to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
As a bloc, COVAX empowers the world’s poorest governments to negotiate cheaper prices with drug companies through bulk buying.
Most African countries have joined the facility whose membership includes 92 low or middle-income countries who seek to have their vaccines paid for by a fund sponsored by donors.
The United Kingdom has donated $1 billion to this fund.
The Canadian government has said it will donate its excess doses through the WHO-backed COVAX facility, which will distribute them to developing countries.
America and Russia are among the few developed countries that are not contributing to the fund.
Last month, South Africa and India lobbied the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive some intellectual property rules to allow for faster, easier access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
Amnesty International and Human Rights have supported the waiver on human rights grounds.
Several very rich countries, including Canada, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union have opposed the waiver.
America argued at the WTO meeting in Geneva that the waiver would be both “broad and unprecedented”.
The United Kingdom told the WTO meeting that such a waiver would create “long-term uncertainty”.
Pro-vaccine campaigners have slammed rich nations.
“We have a situation where donor countries say they’re wiling to provide funds to COVAX to buy vaccines but there are none available because of the (intellectual property) issue,” said Rohit Malpani, a Paris-based public health consultant.
“It’s like inviting someone to dinner and giving them a place but then keeping all the food,” Malpani added.
The poorest African countries complain that even joining COVAX is not cheap.
South Africa’s National Treasury paid $33 million (R500 million) toward COVAX.
The Rainbow Nation needs to pay an additional $297 million (R4.5 billion) to move to the front of COVAX queue, according to the country’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, cited by Bloomberg News.
COVAX will ensure that member countries get cheaper prices than if they negotiated on their own.
So far, the bloc has secured deals for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as well as for a third vaccine in the pipeline.
Researchers say the third vaccine in the pipeline is the one being developed by Johnson & Johnson in partnership with Oxford University.
AstraZeneca, the drug company which is manufacturing that vaccine has said it does not intend to profit from sales to developing countries.
AstraZeneca is contractually obligated by Oxford University, the developer of the vaccine, to sell at cost – an estimated $3 or $4 per dose – which could help avoid a bidding war.
Public health experts do not expect vaccine manufacturers to make and deliver enough doses to cover the world’s 7.8 billion people until late in 2021 or early 2022.
The doses negotiated under the COVAX bloc would cover only 20 percent of each member country’s population – a drop in the sea.
The fear that the poorest countries are not even considered a priority that their vaccine doses, however small, may arrive late is raising concerns that delay only means more deaths.
The coronavirus could become endemic in Africa if vaccinations take too long to arrive and a majority of Africans are not inoculated.