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Chris Diaz is the Director of EABC and trustee Brand Africa.

Fifth Estate

Diaz: Africa must not fall behind vaccine race

By Chris Diaz

The last few weeks have marked an infamous milestone, it’s been more than one year since the COVID-19 pandemic showed its ugly head in the world.

Wuhan, the viruses’ ground zero has for instance market its first lockdown anniversary. It has also been more than 12 months since the first confirmed coronavirus linked death.

While the world has over the last year learnt more about the global health crisis to include the carrying out of tests and preventative measures, the worst is far from over with global cases having run into the hundreds of millions while deaths have topped the two million mark.

Nevertheless, the discovery of an effective vaccine to manage the situation has provided some much needed optimism to an eventual end of the pandemic.

The journey to produce and effectively distribute the antidote is however long and tedious even as pharmaceutical companies’ ramp up their production of COVID-19 vials.

At the same time, and just like the space race in the 50s and 60s, this will be a race to the finish line as countries outbid each other for the scare resource.

Africa falling behind

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Of the millions in already administered jabs, barely have any happened on the African continent.

Fully developed and mature economies have gobbled up the bulk of available jabs for far as the region still scrambles to plan for orders and eventual distribution.

Israel and the United Kingdom are largely ahead of the game having registered impressive rates of inoculating their population.

62 out of every 100 people in Israel have been vaccinated as the country now plans to gradually ease its remaining restrictions to contain the pandemic from mid-February.

On its part, 11.4 million in the UK have received their first vaccine dose with more than half a million people having received both their first and second jabs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson who has received praise as a fore-runner to manage the pandemic now plans for a spring re-opening of the country to include the re-opening of pubs.

By May, the UK is expected to have vaccinated its entire population above the age of 50 and citizens between the age of 16 and 65 who present underlying medical conditions.

Like the UK, the European Union (EU) has also been involve in the scramble for vaccine but is presently losing the game due to supply constraints.

Recently, the EU alongside member Italy for instance slammed pharmaceuticals companies for scaling down production as their respective regions fall behind the administration of vaccines.

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Across the Atlantic, the United States government under the new Biden administration has scaled up the roll out of vaccines with its centre for disease control (USCDC) reporting the distribution of 59.3 million doses and the administration of 39 million jabs.

Marginalization

A deeper look into regions to have since administered jabs has laid bare holes even in the most spirited of campaigns.

In Israel for instance, the country has left out part of its minority groups represented by Palestinians in the Israel occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza strip.

In the UK, marginalized groups including black, Asian and mixed race communities have registered a low uptake of the vaccine from a combination of hurdles including lack of information.

Covax

African countries have meanwhile stood by the World Health Organisation (WHO) led program for equitable vaccine access, popularly known as COVAX to put its hands on the antidote.

The program is for instance set to distribute an estimated 90 million doses in the region across the month of February.

According to the Africa CDC, the region will require at least a 60 per cent vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity in all 54 countries.
This would translate to at least 1.5 billion vaccine doses and a 10 billion dollars (Ksh.1.1 trillion) budget.

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From the program, Kenya is expecting at least 24 million doses in the near term to include an initial access to 4.1 million doses this month with priority been laid on inoculating essential medical workers by June.

However, COVAX is only tipped to cover 30 per cent of Africa’s population leaving full vaccine coverage to solo efforts by countries.

As such, African countries must seek out own deals to access the reminder of vaccines to cover their populations.

Vaccines are expected to be crucial in shaping the recovery of economies in the region to include guarantees on sectors such as travel.

Governments must therefore endeavour to seek out the solution despite the region being largely spared from the worst of the pandemic.

Already, poorer countries such as Honduras, Serbia, Bangladesh, Serbia and Mexico have gone for private deals to secure vials as they grow impatient of bureaucracies presented in the COVAX program even as they face criticism of stalling the collecting effort for equitable vaccines.

Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic has previously accused rich countries of scrambling for more vaccines than they need as he defended his country’s move to seek out private deals.

Misinformation

Conspiracy theories however present an even bigger mountain to the eventual distribution of vaccines holding supply constrains at constant.

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For instance some people have suspected the vaccines to contain alcohol, daily products and even fertility controls as misinformation on the vials spreads like wild fire across the world.

Closer home, Tanzania and Burundi do not plan to distribute any vaccines under the Covax program as they throw all manner of conspiracies and unproven claims.

Burundi Health Minister Thaddee Ndikumana for instance said the country was more concerned about preventive measures saying vaccine efforts were not necessary at this time.

Meanwhile, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli who has previously claimed his country is free of the virus without presenting evidence has expressed reservations about the vaccines claiming Western countries are using Africans as guinea pigs.

Magufuli continues to argue the country is free of the virus and will not distribute vaccines.

Africa has been one of the region’s with greatest business and food production growth opportunities. We must maintain strong health protocols and make this market strong and strengthen trade with the rest of the world

Chris Diaz
Director EABC and trustee Brand Africa

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