Last Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had a virtual meeting with AU leaders. On the table was the emergence of vaccine nationalism, an issue that is bothering many African nations since it concerns the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine to the rich countries.
The meeting came in the backdrop of bad news: There will not be enough vaccines to cover the world’s population until 2023 or 2024. The other tragedy is that Africa is left out in the scramble for Covid-19 vaccine.
New data indicates that Kenya will, for instance, need 10.5 million doses for the first vaccine injection to cover at least 20 per cent of the population and 21 million doses for the second administration. But that might not be an easy walk. “It is one of our main items at the global stage,” says Dr Martin Kimani, the new Kenyan ambassador at the UN.
At the moment, wealthy countries are ordering the vaccine in bulk for their citizens and this has left the poor nations wondering if they will, in the short term, access the newly-developed vaccine.
While Mr Guterres wants the vaccines treated as a global public good, he hopes the cash-strapped World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX programme would be able to get the desired $4.2 billion to buy and deliver the coronavirus vaccine to poor communities across the world.
So far, the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, whose aim is to get the vaccines to all corners of the world, has only $5.1 billion in commitment and requires $4.1 billion urgently. By 2021, the project must have secured $24 billion to roll-out vaccinations.
With most African countries lacking finances to respond to the crisis, the fate of the continent, where the 54 nations have registered more than 2.2 million cases and over 53,000 deaths, will be dire, thanks to vaccine nationalism.
Yesterday, the Addis Ababa based Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention started discussion on the access of the Covid-19 vaccines.
“What would be extremely dangerous is that people [in rich countries] vaccinate themselves and then impose conditions on who can come in and who can’t. Then, our population will be stranded,” worries John Nkengasong , the head of Africa CDC.
Critics of vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritise their domestic needs, argue that while it helped accelerate the development of the drug, the ordering of the vaccine by only a few countries that can afford will leave a huge part of the globe still at the mercy of Covid-19.
There is history to that since it took 10 years for Africa to get access to life-saving HIV drugs and a lot of campaigns at the global stage.
While China and Russia are already distributing their state-backed vaccines, the Western countries managed to secure billions of doses even before they were approved.
Data from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, which is tracking vaccine procurement worldwide, indicates that high- and upper-middle-income countries have collectively reserved more than nine billion vaccine doses while lower-income countries, and Kenya sits in that bracket, will have to line up and await funding to access the vaccine.
So far, Kenya is not among the countries listed among nations that have reserved orders although it is listed as “AMC legible”.
AMC stands for Advance Market Commitment, and the current dilemma is how doses for low income countries will be financed — and by whom. An Official Development Assistance (ODA) facility has been set up and some of the 92 ODA-eligible countries will access the vaccines through the AMC ,but will have to pay for the delivery by up to $2 per vaccine, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
While vaccines might be available, Gavi has already said that AMC-eligible countries should also prepare for delivery. “Introducing a new vaccine is a highly complex process with many important steps involved, including national regulatory pathways; human resources and training; logistics and cold chain service delivery to establish priority target populations; data collection and monitoring to ensure coverage is adequate and safe; and social mobilisation and community engagement. So, people are aware of what’s going on and have confidence in Covid-19 vaccines,” said Gavi in a statement.
What has emerged of late is that many high-income countries have hedged their bets by advance purchasing of enough doses to vaccinate their population several times over. The question that has been asked is whether African countries are ready to receive the vaccine.
It is estimated that to vaccinate about 60 per cent of Africa’s population, the continent must get at least 1.5 billion vaccine doses, which will cost, at the current market rates, between $8 billion and $ 16 billion besides the delivery markup that consume an extra 30 per cent.