South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged wealthier countries to end COVID-19 vaccine nationalism.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda on Tuesday, Ramaphosa, who is also the chair of the African Union, spoke out against rich countries hoarding vaccine doses — acquiring enough to vaccinate their populations several times over, in some cases.
Meanwhile, among the world’s low-income countries, just one so far has been able to acquire any vaccines — with Guinea reportedly able to immunise 25 people.
“We are concerned about vaccine nationalism,” Ramaphosa said. “The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines from the developers and manufacturers of these vaccines. Some countries went beyond and acquired four times what their population needs, and that was aimed at hoarding these vaccines.”
He went on to say that the hoarding of vaccines was being done to exclude countries that need them most, explaining that there is no need for countries to buy vaccines for more than double their population.
Ramaphosa also took time to praise the effort of the World Health Organisation in establishing the COVAX Facility to encourage equitable access to vaccines.
“It was a great applaudable effort by the World Health Organisation to set up the COVAX Facility, where it felt that we needed to aglomerate all our acquisition processes so that there can be equity in the distribution and in the access to vaccines,” he said.
However, the South African president highlighted that the actions of wealthy countries is a contradiction of this global effort.
“Now rich countries in the world are holding on to these vaccines and we are saying, ‘release the excess vaccines that you have ordered and hoarded,’” he said.
South Africa is currently the country hardest-hit by COVID-19 on the continent, and has recorded over 1.4 million cases and 41,797 deaths to date.
Also at the Davos Agenda, director of the Africa CDC, John Nkengasong said that the continent is experiencing a “very aggressive second wave” of the pandemic. He explained that Africa’s mortality rate is increasing by an average of 18% across the continent.
“We as a continent must recognise that vaccines will not be here when we want them, but as such we need to really focus on the public health measures that we know work while waiting for vaccines,” he said, emphasizing that these public health measures should be complementary to vaccines.
In his closing remarks on the matter, Ramaphosa commended the work of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), a group of 10 individuals from across the continent whose goal is to secure enough vaccines to reach herd immunity by 2022.
He said that although the efforts of AVATT have been marginally successful, there is still a larger need for richer countries to share the vaccines they have acquired.
“We are all not safe if some countries are vaccinating their people and other countries are not vaccinating,” said Ramaphosa.
He said: “We all must act together in combating coronavirus because it affects all of us equally, and therefore our remedies, our actions to combat it, must also be equal and they must be overarching for all of us and not something that special countries or certain countries have on their own to the exclusion of others.”