According to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus the world is presently threatened by “moral failure” that will be paid with the price of “lives and livelihoods in the poorest countries”.
This gloomy report of what has become of humanity’s fight against the coronavirus is painted against the backdrop of higher-income countries continuing to hoard vaccines while developing and underdeveloped countries struggle to buy or secure manufacturers’ commitment to supply.
According to Dr. Ghebreyesus, “not 25 million, not 25,000, just 25” doses have been administered in the poorest countries of the world while the richest have seen about 40 million doses administered to individuals in those countries. On Thursday, the UN’s news portal revealed that the 25 doses of WHO-approved vaccine were administered in Guinea.
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The ratio disturbs many experts including Tom Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has warned that vaccine hoarding could potentially prolong the global health crisis.
“The Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine. All their doses coming this year have been claimed,” Bollyky told NBC’s Today show. Canada, with a population of about 38 million, has reportedly ordered enough vaccines to last each inhabitant six times of vaccination. The orders placed by the United States guarantees each inhabitant five rounds of vaccination.
There are over 50 COVID-19 vaccines at various levels of reliability with the three named above approved by most governments in the developed world. However, the WHO itself has approved just Pfizer’s for emergency use with ongoing processes to determine the usability of Moderna’s and AstraZeneca’s.
In spite of these challenges, the BBC reports that Africa is in line to receive some 900 million doses of vaccines secured under various forms including the WHO’s COVAX program, an initiative intended to ensure an equitable distribution in the face of global competition. The doses will be enough for one in every of Africa’s 1.3 billion people.
Currently, only Seychelles, with a population of about 100,000 is administering doses on a national scale thanks to donations from the Middle Eastern countries as well as from India. The rest of the continent has to wait for “weeks, if not months” to receive vaccines, according to the WHO.
The COVAX program has secured nearly 2 billion doses of vaccines from five suppliers, with an intention to receive a billion more soon. The program is working in tandem with governments in Africa to vaccinate 20% of Africans on the continent by the end of 2020. That process will begin in March, about four months after vaccines were first rolled out.
For some, the nature of the challenge to securing doses for the world’s poorest continent is reminiscent of an equally dark time some few decades ago when HIV infections shot through the roof on the continent. Anti-retroviral drugs continued to be made in the United States even though the crisis was worsening in Africa but falling Stateside. For a long time, it cost an HIV-infected African $10,000 a year for treatment.
The fight against HIV/AIDS infections is now under control but not after 12 million Africans had died. South Africa, one of the worst-hit by HIV (continues to be one of the worst-hit in the world today) is also the worst-hit by the coronavirus in Africa. South Africa accounts for nearly half of the about three million African cases as of January 20.
The country cannot wait for the WHO initiative to come into full effect. But the move to unilaterally secure vaccines by February has been faced with pricing dynamics the WHO has described as “price-gouging”. While European Union (EU) countries are buying Astra Zeneca’s doses for $2.16, the same doses would cost South Africa, the continent’s second-largest economy, $5.25.