Western states' hypocrisy on Covid-19 vaccines

They promised solidarity but made doses Africa cannot store and are hoarding supplies

In Summary

• The vaccines that are already in the market rely on cold storage facilities that are hard to come by in the continent

• The developed economies have already purchased over nine billion of the 12 billion doses to be produced this year.

Hypocrisy on Covid-19 vaccines
Hypocrisy on Covid-19 vaccines
Image: OZONE

While vaccination programmes against Covid-19 is picking steam across Europe and North America, fears are mounting that in Africa, nearly 90 per cent of the population could miss out on the essential jab.

So far, only two African countries — Egypt and Morocco — have received some Covid-19 vaccine doses, all from China. Health experts and officials across the continent are now worried that Africa could be up against long wait for the vaccine-aided recovery from the global health crisis.

A number of factors have fuelled what is increasingly turning out to be hypocrisy of the western countries regarding global solidarity against the pandemic.

First, the vaccines that are already in the market rely on cold storage facilities that are hard to come by in the continent, clearly demonstrated a scientific bias against a section of the global population. A universally viable vaccine options could have informed the research and production of such essential commodities.

Second, the developed economies have already purchased over nine billion of the 12 billion doses to be produced this year. This means the production lines will be running round the clock to meet the demands of the rich countries, in what now appears to be another instance of commodity hoarding.

Bulk buying of Covid-19 products in the early stages of the pandemic made it hard for developing countries to acquire even facemasks. It is unfortunate that while storage facilities in advanced economies will have access products, in Africa, there could be little or none.

Third, since Africa has not participated in the trials for nearly all of the western-produced vaccine candidates, experts now project that it might take repurposing of the vaccines, to get it right in Africa. Such a move would certainly delay the provision of the lifesaving vials to the continent whose economies have been dealt such a heavy blow by the global health crisis.

The commitment by advanced economies to support equitable access by developing countries through the global vaccine alliance Covax, does not look to hold much promise to Africa. Besides promising doses to cover only 20 per cent of the participating country populations, only the Oxford-AstraZeneca partnership will meet Covax orders. To get the remaining segment of the population covered, African countries would have to dig into their pockets, a feat that seems quite tall, given the high cost of the commodities and the perilous economic situation of many economies in the continent.

These factors, working in concert, are likely to impede the response to the health crisis in Africa, and call for new approaches to cushion the population from the vagaries of the disease. Developing economies should scout for vaccine candidates that speak to the needs of the continent – monetarily, technologically, and on efficacy.

As of December 27, 2020, there were 1,816,552 Covid-19 infections in Africa, with 24,464 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. While the continent has done relatively well in protecting lives, the same cannot be said of livelihoods. With only four African countries projected to record positive economic growth this year, millions are slipping back to poverty through job and business losses.

Homegrown solutions such as the credit line from the African Export-Import Bank by the African Centres for Disease Control, to purchase additional vaccines to cover another 40 per cent of the population are certainly welcome.

Beyond the multilateral efforts to inoculate the continent from the pandemic, individual countries must now think about alternative source markets for the commodities away from Western capitals. There are promising vaccine candidates from China that meet many of the aspirations of the continent in terms of cost, technology, and storage and logistics capabilities.

Beijing is also offshoring some the vaccines manufacturing to Africa, which could expedite distribution to the region while also boosting job creation through industrial cooperation. It is these kinds of tangible and pragmatic cooperative arrangements that fuel Sino-Africa ties.

The writer is an international relations researcher @Cavinceworld