Jan. 4, 2021 (GIN) – Countries across Africa are hunting for deals to obtain COVID-19 vaccines at affordable prices but their limited funds will cover less than half of their citizens. One estimate places access to a vaccine at one person out of 10.
According to a report in The Hill, a U.S. news website, 9 out of 10 people in nearly 70 poor countries will not get a COVID-19 vaccine this year due to government funding shortfalls.
In Uganda, nine million doses of the life-saving vaccine have been ordered through GAVI – Global Alliances for Vaccines and Immunization – amid surging new infections in the country. The vaccines will cover only 20 percent of the country’s population.
In Kenya, the country is seeking 24 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from COVAX, a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID vaccines with 1.2 billion doses of safe and effective vaccines to be shared among 92 lower-income countries this year.
With an additional $92 million, Kenya can buy more doses, enough to vaccinate 30 per cent of its citizens.
AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company and part of COVAX, said it will provide vaccines at cost “in perpetuity” to countries in the developing world at a cost of no more than $3 a dose.
Pfizer, a for-profit operation, has not joined the initiative. The wholesale price for their drug is $20 a dose – out of reach for most of Africa.
Morocco and Egypt are buying vaccines from the China-based Sinopharm. Last week, Egypt received the second batch of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine, bringing the country’s inventory to 100,000 – enough for 50,000 people, a small fraction of a total 98 million population.
Morocco says it will vaccinate 80 percent of adults with Sinopharm starting this month after King Mohammed VI instructed the government to make the vaccine free, according to a Royal Palace statement.
In the East African region, Rwanda and Kenya say they’ve applied for the AstraZeneca/Oxford product.
Rwanda is set to acquire the vaccine in the first quarter of 2021 and distribute it to 20 percent of the population.
“Rich countries have enough doses to vaccinate everyone nearly three times over, whilst poor countries don’t even have enough to even reach health workers and people at risk,” said Mohga Kamal Yanni, from the People’s Vaccine Alliance. “The current system, where pharmaceutical corporations use government funding for research, retain exclusive rights and keep their technology secret to boost profits, could cost many lives.”
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Too late. A handful of rich countries have ‘cleared the shelves’ – buying up more supply than their populations actually need.
Canada, with a population of 37.6 million, leads the pack, ordering enough vaccine for its population times six. The U.S., with a population of 328 million, has secured 100 million doses from Pfizer, 200 million from Moderna and 810 million doses from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Sanofi combined, for a combined total of 1.5 billion.
Other wealthy nations have joined the U.S. in placing large preorders, often with options to expand the deals and acquire even more — undermining many countries’ ability to make timely purchases.
“We are dealing with an incredibly competitive global environment,” said Canada’s minister of procurement, Anita Anand. “It’s very much the long game here.”
To protect the rights of vulnerable groups in 190 economies, COVAX, an international body, was launched by the World Health Organization, the European Commission and France to ensure that people worldwide would get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved.
The aim is to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021 to protect high risk and vulnerable people as well as frontline healthcare workers. Some experts predict it will be 2024 before there is enough vaccine.
As stark disparities in vaccine access become more visible, pressure will be mounting on wealthy countries to alter their plans. Lois Chingandu, a member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said she lived in fear of contracting Covid-19 if her country, Zimbabwe, could not obtain enough vaccine.
In the late 1990s, Ms. Chingandu worked in HIV prevention and watched thousands of people die from AIDS each day. Medicine was available to stop it – but only to those who could afford it.
Ms. Chingandu and the People’s Vaccine want drug companies to share the intellectual property so that generic forms of the vaccine can be made.
The World Trade Organization is undecided whether to waive intellectual property rules for Covid vaccines. The proposal has won support from some countries but is opposed by many Western countries.
“People are going to die of Covid,” says Ms Chingandu in frustration, “while people in other countries are living a normal life… Eventually when the privileged decide that it’s time to save the poor people, then we will get the vaccine,” she told the BBC.