The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners have said they hope to provide Africa with about 30 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines the continent needs by February, badly missing the 60 percent vaccination coverage goal that African leaders had once hoped for this year.
Out of 5.7 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines administered around the world so far, only 2 percent have been in Africa.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday called the massive disparity in vaccination rates between rich and poor countries a “solvable problem” and urged pharmaceutical companies to prioritise the UN-backed COVAX initiative, which is designed to share vaccines globally and provide shots at no cost to lower-income countries.
The African Union accused manufacturers of COVID-19 shots of denying African countries a fair chance to buy them, and urged manufacturing countries – in particular India – to lift export restrictions on vaccines and their components.
“Those manufacturers know very well that they never gave us proper access,” Strive Masiyiwa, AU Special Envoy for COVID-19, told a WHO briefing from Geneva. “We could have handled this very differently.”
But the companies that manufacture the vaccines – including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – have shown no indications they are eager to switch their current tactics, which involve appealing to rich countries and their regulators to authorise booster shots.
Masiyiwa stressed that, in aiming to vaccinate 60 percent of its population, the African Union and its partners had expected to buy half the doses needed, while half were expected to come as donations through the COVAX programme, backed by the WHO and the GAVI global vaccine alliance.
“We want access to purchase,” he said.