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Coronavirus

Where Are The Doses? How U.S. And Europe Vaccine Pledges Look In Africa

Following bold promises from Western leaders to send millions of jabs to the developing world, there is still an extreme shortage in most African countries.

Taking the temperature of a Kenyatta National Hospital staff member in Nairobi

Taking the temperature of a Kenyatta National Hospital staff member in Nairobi

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

In recent weeks, European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen and U.S. President Joe Biden have very publicly doubled down on commitments to help vaccinate the whole world against COVID-19, donating hundreds of millions of additional doses to try to save lives in developing countries and defeat the global pandemic once and for all.

"To beat the pandemic here we need to beat it everywhere," Biden said last week announcing the U.S. was buying 500,000 more vaccine doses to share with other countries. "This is an all hands on deck crisis."

But in many places, the situation on the ground is lagging behind the public promises. In Africa, the world's least vaccinated continent, the global Covax initiative aims to raise the vaccinated rate from the current 3.6% to 40% by March 2022. But as Jeune Afrique magazine reports, obtaining the 470-million doses to make it possible will be a serious challenge.

Colonial connections 

"We complained about a lack of transparency," Aurélia Nguyen, managing director of the Covax Facility, tells Jeune Afrique. "We have the funding and the contracts to vaccinate 37% of the African population byl March, but we will need a very rapid increase in deliveries to achieve our goals."

Given its colonial connections and geographic proximity, European countries like Belgium, France, Germany and Portugal have decided to largely focus on Africa for their Covax donations.

Still, Africa has only received 167 million doses so far (67 million through Covax) and the 27 EU member countries have delivered just 60% of its promised deliveries. For its part, the United Kingdom has donated at least 35 million vaccines to Africa. Significantly, the majority of these doses are AstraZeneca, which because of issues with blood clots, often are looked at wearily by vaccine skeptics.

As long as rich countries take vaccines off the market, Africa will not meet its targets.

In terms of the cost of these donations, the EU is not significantly behind other countries, having so far spent over $2.5 billion on Covax, compared to the United States' $2.6 billion. Although, this might seem low given contributions by singular nations, for example Japan's $1 billion, accounting for 10% of global financial commitments to Covax.

A sign explains who can get a jab first during the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program at Mbagathi Hospital, in Nairobi, Kenya — Photo: Robert Bonet/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Vaccine inequity

Advocates are still demanding more from the EU: Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, a French member of the European Parliament and co-chair the Board of Covax shareholders, sent a letter to President von der Leyen earlier this month asking for an additional 4-billion-euro contribution to Covax. This would give leverage to a more ambitious objective of achieving 60% vaccination coverage in low and middle income countries by the first half of 2022. But von der Leyen didn't follow this guidance, instead promising 200 million additional Covax vaccines by mid-2022 during her September 15 State of the Union speech.

The EU has chosen a more long-term approach to aiding Africa through the pandemic, investing one billion euros to develop the technology and infrastructure to produce and distribute vaccines domestically. In July, Brussels gave the green light to support vaccine manufacturing at the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal. But the question remains whether this will do enough to reduce vaccine inequality, with African vaccine coverage inching toward 20% by the end of the year.

And as Western countries around the world consider third doses to boost vaccine efficacy, first doses for poorer countries might become even more scarce. As Dr Matshidiso Moeti, regional director of the World Health Organization, tells Jeune Afrique, "As long as rich countries take vaccines off the market, Africa will not meet its targets."

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