Agadir – The unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, especially “vaccine hoarding,” is putting Africa at risk, the World Health Organization warned during the 148th session of the Executive Board, which is taking place from January 18 to January 26.
There is a danger of leaving Africa behind when it comes to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, as wealthier countries make bilateral deals and drive up the prices.
In the director general’s opening remarks on January 18, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots,” pointing to the historically unequal distribution of vaccines during the HIV and H1N1 pandemics.
He went on to note that even though higher-income countries have administered over 39 million doses of the vaccine, only one lowest-income country has had a chance to inoculate citizens against COVID-19. Guinea, the sole low-income country in Africa to have received doses, has managed to vaccinate 25 people.
Speaking of COVAX, a WHO-led initiative to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for people across all countries, Ghebreyesus pointed to some countries and organizations which continue to prioritize bilateral deals, circumventing COVAX. Such attempts to jump the queue, termed “vaccine hoarding,” drive up prices and make it even more difficult for lower-income countries to gain access to the vaccines.
Speaking of the self-serving approach of high-income countries, Ghebreyesus said that “ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.”
He also explained the steps necessary to combat the uneven distribution of vaccines. First is the need for transparency when it comes to the deals with vaccine-distributors. Once the most vulnerable populations have received vaccines, the excess doses should be shared with COVAX to help inoculate frontline workers and the elderly of low-income nations.
The second step would be for vaccine producers to provide WHO with full data for regulatory review in real-time, to help accelerate approvals.
The third step would be to ensure that all vaccines in use have met the rigorous international standards for safety, efficacy, and quality.
Attention to the unequal distribution of vaccines and the challenge of vaccine hoarding has continued to grow as many countries have started their respective vaccination roll-outs.