Corona crisis worldwide: too little vaccine for poorer people

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Fri 22nd Oct, 2021

There has been no shortage of grandiose announcements in the Corona crisis so far: no one is safe until everyone is safe, the international community keeps saying, and countries outdo each other in announcing how many vaccine doses they will pass on to poorer countries. But while the number of new infections is rising again in many poorer countries, aid from the richer nations is falling far short of promises.

According to an evaluation commissioned by the development organization Oxfam and released Thursday, only 14 percent, or 261 million doses, of the 1.8 billion doses promised by Europe and other G-7 countries have currently arrived. "If we fail to vaccinate most of the world's population, the virus will spread and mutate into increasingly dangerous forms," the evaluation says.

The United States has given the most vaccines, according to the report. But the 177 million doses also represent only 16 percent of the past amount, it said.

Germany is not in a good position either: At the beginning of September, the health ministers of the G-20 countries concluded the "Rome Pact. Within this framework, Federal Health Minister Spahn had announced that the Federal Republic would donate 100 million vaccine doses to other countries - by the end of the year. Until the middle of this week, this was still a long way off. Statistics from the Federal Ministry of Health show that 11.5 million Astra-Zeneca vaccine doses have so far been given (or are in the process of being given) to the international vaccine initiative Covax, and another 7.7 million doses have been sent directly to countries such as Ukraine, Vietnam, and Thailand. The ministry did not answer the question of whether Spahn's promise could be kept by the end of the year.

Disillusionment had already set in over the past few weeks. The Covax initiative had to say goodbye to its goal of supplying 2 billion people in the world's 92 poorest countries by the end of the year. The new goal is to distribute 1.4 billion doses there, but even that still seems a long way off.

The chairman of the initiative's procurement committee, John Arne Røttingen, made serious accusations against governments and vaccine manufacturers a month ago. Asked whether the richer countries that publicly support Covax were buying vaccines from poorer countries, he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung: "In any case, the suspicion suggests itself that other customers are preferred to us simply for commercial reasons." The suspicion is that the manufacturers are getting involved because they are earning more money.

Other reasons cited by Røttingen were that the initiative had also relied on vaccine candidates that had not made it to market, and an export ban from India had eliminated the largest vaccine supplier, the Serum Institute of India, for recipient countries. India wanted to vaccinate its own population first.

The country has now just declared that it has now given one billion vaccinations. The progress in the country of 1.4 billion people, whose government had cruelly underestimated the second Corona wave, is fuelling hopes for exports from the "pharmacy of the world": True, India has not exported any Corona vaccine at all since April. Then in October, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged supplies across the border. Strategically important neighboring countries such as Bangladesh and Iran have since received four million doses of vaccine. The international vaccination mission Covax, however, has so far been left empty-handed, contrary to all promises.

In Africa, vaccination efforts have recently gained momentum despite low supplies. Still, the continent lags far behind other regions around the world. So far, only 5 percent of 1.2 billion people have been fully vaccinated, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, announced. He made a strong appeal to people in all countries to get vaccinated.

Apart from shortages on the supply side, widespread vaccination skepticism is evident in many countries. In addition, there are many logistical challenges, Nkengasong said. Vaccines need to be distributed throughout the country, and knowledgeable staff is needed, he said. The population also needs to be informed, he added. Eritrea is now the only country on the continent where vaccination has not yet been introduced.

In South Africa, the country with the most reported infections on the continent, almost 37 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated. As of this week, adolescents over the age of 12 can also get the shot. South Africa is a major site for its own vaccine production in Africa. Aspen, a publicly-traded pharmaceutical company, fills and packages Johnson & Johnson vaccines there. Semi-state-owned Biovac recently signed a contract to fill up to 100 million doses of Pfizer's BioNTech vaccine annually. In the longer term, the company plans to move into full production of Covid vaccines. Public pressure on pharmaceutical companies to produce in Africa is growing. Recently, U.S.-based Moderna announced plans to build a manufacturing facility and invest up to $500 million.

Image by Fernando Zhiminaicela


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