COVID-19 vaccine: An unequal race

Wednesday, 2021-07-21 10:04:51
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On 14 July 2021, 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the US government through COVAX landed in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. (Photo: Unicef)
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NDO – Ahead of the forthcoming second meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine, WHO has warned that Africa is in the face of a serious vaccine shortage.

The total number of COVID-19 infections here has surpassed six million. Notably, the “dark continent”, home to 1.3 billion people, is lagging far behind in the immunisation campaign compared to other regions around the world. To date, only about 18 million Africans have been fully vaccinated, accounting for little over 1% of the total population. With most African nations relying on vaccine supply from the COVAX mechanism, many were forced to delay their inoculation plans when India, the main supplier of COVAX, stopped exporting vaccines to focus on domestic vaccination programmes.

Looking at the global picture of vaccine access, the disparity between rich and poor countries is creating clear contrasting colours. While the US has administered full doses to about 50% of its population and has a surplus of vaccines, not far away geographically, Haiti - a Latin American country, recently received its first batch of vaccines through COVAX on July 14, with 500,000 doses. The US and European countries are seizing great advantages in accessing vaccine supply because many large pharmaceutical companies are located there with advanced vaccine production facilities. Furthermore, these countries also have abundant financial resources.

Recently, many nations came up with idea of administering a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine to their people. This idea, however, has been faced with controversy. Experts fear that countries pushing for such a third-dose plan will increasingly broaden the disparity in vaccine distribution globally. WHO calls on rich nations to prioritise sharing vaccines with poor countries, instead of implementing the injection of a third dose.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus once admitted inequality in access to COVID-19 vaccines between rich and poor countries as the failure of the world. Along with improving the operational efficiency of COVAX, rich countries should further uphold their readiness and proactivity in sharing vaccines with poorer ones. Only then can the current “unequal race” become a “relay race” on the vaccine access journey, bringing the whole world to overall victory in the battle against the pandemic.