The World Health Organization chief said that the longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, and the longer social and economic disruption will continue, heightening chances that more variants will emerge.
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said the health organization’s global targets are to support every country vaccinating at least 40% of its population against COVID-19 by the end of this year and 70% of the world’s population by the middle of next year.
“So far, just two countries in Africa have reached the 40% target, the lowest of any region. More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2% of those have been administered in Africa,” Tedros said in a WHO webinar in Geneva.
“The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.”
Speaking on why it is so essential for the world that Africa is vaccinated against COVID-19, he said that so far, the partnership for vaccine equity COVAX has shipped more than 260 million doses to 141 countries.
Tedros noted that COVAX has also faced several challenges, with manufacturers prioritizing bilateral deals and many high-income countries tying up the global supply of vaccines.
The reason for Africa’s low vaccination threshold is not because African countries lack the capacity or experience to roll out vaccines, said the WHO chief.
“It’s because they have been left behind by the rest of the world,” he asserted.
He said that many people in Africa are at high risk of disease and death exposed to a virus against which many other people worldwide enjoy protection.
“This doesn’t only hurt the people of Africa, it hurts all of us,” added Tedros.
To avoid this scenario, the WHO, the global alliance for vaccines Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and UNICEF established COVAX last year to accelerate vaccines’ development and equitable distribution.
Last year, the African Union (AU) established the African COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, or AVAT, to compliment COVAX to purchase vaccines for the AU Member States.
“Yesterday and today, we had a very constructive meeting between partners from COVAX and AVAT to agree on a way forward. Vaccine inequity is a solvable problem,” said Tedros.
“We call on manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and AVAT and to share information on supply and delivery projections so countries can be ready to roll out vaccines when they land immediately.”