PANDEMIC

Equitable access to Covid vaccines vital

In Summary
  • The World Health Organization has already sounded alarm bells over what many fear is the emergence of a sinister vaccine nationalism.
  • I have not seen any plans for distributing and administering any of the frontrunner Covid-19 vaccines in Africa.
A medic holds a bottle labelled Vaccine Covid-19.
A medic holds a bottle labelled Vaccine Covid-19.
Image: REUTERS

Nothing has had more devastating power on every aspect of our lives – relationships, mental health, careers, businesses and finances – than Covid-19. We all share a singular hope, that the pandemic will let up in 2021.

The consequence of the pandemic fatigue has been devastating, particularly after governments across the world eased the first instalment of restriction orders, popularly known as lockdown. The so-called second and third waves have crippled healthcare capacity at a time when the health workforce is enfeebled by coronavirus infections.

Infections, morbidity, hospitalisation and mortality have surged globally and dangerously so. What is a veritable third global wave is vicious, with daily infections approaching 700,000. Nearly one year after the first Covid-19 cases were diagnosed in China’s Wuhan city, people across the world are tired and weary of non-pharmaceutical interventions – especially mask wearing and social distancing.

 

The promise of the vaccines is absolutely delightful. Once again, the power of science has shone through, like a bright light at the darkest hour. Where there was despondency and despair, there is joy and hope. But it will be several months or even a year before we get the vaccine into the bodies of billions of people across the world. Most governments around the world are yet to assemble even a draft vaccine distribution strategy.

A vaccine is a good thing to have. But what the world desperately needs is a vaccination. I am afraid the stellar achievement of the scientific community could come to naught unless politicians and the thick web of half competent bureaucracies inside governments get their act together. Questions abound on who will get the vaccine first. It’s not clear if the vaccine will be administered free of charge, especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The World Health Organization has already sounded alarm bells over what many fear is the emergence of a sinister vaccine nationalism. I have not seen any plans for distributing and administering any of the frontrunner Covid-19 vaccines in Africa. I see or hear no credible plans on how Covax Facility will be funded to support low-and lower-middle-income countries.

There is a long and painful economic price to pay if we do not ensure equitable access to the Covid-19 vaccines. In the latest World Economic Outlook report, the IMF notes that Covid-19 has led to a steep global economic recession. Moreover, the Eurasia Group analysis suggests that neglecting the LLMIC will cause devastating, long-term economic damage that will put decades of progress at risk.

In Africa, critical development goals of empowering women, youth and marginalised communities, raising incomes and improving health outcomes, could be irreversibly imperiled. I am also mindful that rampant corruption in both the private and public sectors could severely imperil the lives of hundreds of millions.

We must act fast and decisively to make robust plans for equitable vaccination of billions of the most vulnerable in the LLMIC. It would be tragic for anyone to not get the Covid-19 vaccine because they are too poor or not connected.