Africa is currently battling a third wave of COVID-19 infections with one hand behind its back as it faces a fast-depleting stock of vaccines.
Vaccine exports to Africa have dried up just as cases have been steadily on the rise, with the continent far from being able to produce jabs for its entire population.
The continent is one of the biggest beneficiaries of vaccines from the COVAX facility, whose supplies have taken a hit as its largest supplier — the Serum Institute of India — has halted exports in order to meet domestic demand, and wealthy countries not delivering on their commitments to sharing excess doses.
Less than 1% of the continent has received a vaccine, with 15 of Africa’s COVAX-dependent countries have used 80% or more of their vaccines, according to the WHO, a concerning statistic for South Africa especially as the country accounts for the most cases – recently reporting 43% of Africa’s third-wave COVID-19 cases.
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of Covid-19,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa.
Vaccine nationalism has had a huge role to play in Africa having insufficient vaccines for its people, as wealthy nations rushed to hoard more than enough doses for their populations, leaving middle- to low-income countries far behind in the fight against the pandemic.
While a number of high-income countries, namely most of the seven wealthiest (G7), have committed to donating their excess doses to countries in need around the world and particularly in Africa, there have been no set timelines from any state on when these doses can be expected. Most of these countries have already vaccinated large numbers of their populations, with no set plans on when they’ll share excess doses with vulnerable communities.
The longer these wealthy nations take to share vaccines, the longer it will take to eradicate COVID-19 on the African continent, and ultimately, end the global pandemic. International campaign groups, including Global Citizen, had called on G7 leaders to donate one billion vaccine doses by September, and two billion by the end of 2021. Instead, 870 million doses will be shared within a year, half of which will come this year.
Moeti added in her statement: “While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups.”
These are some of the wealthy countries that have committed to donating their surplus to fight COVID-19 in Africa and here’s where they stand on those commitments:
1. The United Kingdom
The hosts of this year’s G7 Summit committed to donating most of its surplus to poor countries in February, however more specific details weren't unvailed until June. They have pledged just 5 million by the end of September and a further 25 million by the end of the year, with an extra 70 million in the first half of 2022. Of that, 80% of the 100m doses will go to COVAX with the rest being shared direct to countries most in need.
Meanwhile it has purchased more than 400 million vaccines for its population of just 66 million, 46% of that population have already been fully vaccinated as of mid June 2021.
France is the only country that has given a rough outline of when and how their surplus doses will be distributed. Earlier this year, before the G7 committed to increasing funding for the COVAX facility, President Macron made an appeal to the countries’ leaders to immediately donate their surplus to those in need.
"We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and we are not starting in poor countries,” he said in a statement. “It's an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it's politically unsustainable too because it's paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines.”
France then became the first wealthy country to donate some of it’s surplus vaccines through COVAX. In April 2021, 100,000 doses were given to the north African country Mauritania as part of France’s commitment, and the country has committed to donating 500,000 doses to African countries by mid-June.
3. The United States
The United States has been playing catch up in the vaccine commitment department, and so far the country has been delivering.
The country committed to donating 80 million doses to countries in need by the end of June, and is set to make an immediate shipment of 25 million doses to countries experiencing dangerous surges in cases including India and Iraq.
On June 9 it announced a further commitment of 500 million doses to 100 poor countries which will be donated through the COVAX facility. The United States will likely donate 200 million of those this year and the rest will be distributed next year. Some of these doses have been promised to the African Union.
In May 2021 Germany committed 30 million doses to poorer countries, but has not detailed how these donations will work and it is not yet clear whether any of these vaccines will be donated to African countries.
Making sure everyone, everywhere has access to vaccines is part of Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World Campaign. Take action here and call on the G7 to fulfil their commitments, secure vaccines for all, and bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.