Africa at risk as rich nations hoard doses, eye vaccine diplomacy

Wednesday November 10 2021

Covax Covid-19 vaccines are loaded onto a vehicle after their arrival in Rwanda on March 3, 2021. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG


About 42 African countries are set to miss the World Health Organisation’s mid-2022 target of inoculating at least 70 percent of their population against Covid-19 as rich nations continue to hoard the vaccines, a WHO official has said.

This, WHO says, has led to slow delivery of vaccines and vaccination across the continent.

While addressing a geopolitics conference in Kampala on Wednesday, the WHO immunisation and vaccination specialist in Uganda, Dr Andrew Bakainanga said wealthy nations are holding vaccine stocks three times their population due to uncertainties of the pandemic in the near future. This is as poor African countries are struggling to get the jabs.

Even with the presence of the Covax facility, which WHO put in place to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, Dr Bakainanga said some countries like China and India are now opting for vaccine diplomacy especially in Africa for political and economic expansion.

“It is imperative upon the countries receiving these vaccines to ensure that their independence and integrity is put in consideration. Many countries actually have the money to buy the vaccines but access to them still remains a problem. In this matter, when a country looks only at its own population, it is doing the whole global population a disservice,” he said.

WHO has been pushing for the production of more vaccines by big pharma and urging countries to donate their stocks to go through the Covax facility as a way of shielding receivers from vaccine diplomacy.


Africa has only achieved 10 percent vaccination for its population with barely two months to the end of the year. WHO had set a 40 percent target for 2021.

African leaders and the African Union blame the West for hoarding vaccines.

A Ugandan Health ministry official said the pandemic blew open the lid on Western nations for “hiding behind conventions while ignoring basic values.”

“Health is a human right. So where is the West’s stand on this during these times?” Dr Driwale Alfred, the Assistant Commissioner of Vaccines and Immunisation at the ministry posed.

Uganda has vaccinated less than three percent of its target population and is under a partial lockdown to tame the spread of the deadly virus.

Dr Alfred said the country expects to receive between 21 to 31 million doses before the year ends.

“One of the leading challenges has been limited availability of vaccines to the country. We are only receiving doses in hundreds of thousands which numbers cannot drive the speed of the vaccination,” he said.

Vaccine production

Calls for Africa to produce vaccines have been met with resistance from big pharma over intellectual property rights, but WHO says it is engaging players to come up with a model that would address some of the current challenges in this pandemic.

“In future, we do not have to come back to this again when countries refuse to share technology,” Dr Bakainanga said.

Read: Kenya upset over stalled talks on jab IP rights

Last month, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the concentration of tools to produce vaccines in the hands of a few countries and companies had led to a global catastrophe, with the rich protected while the poor remain exposed.

“We can still achieve the targets for this year and next, but it will take a level of political commitment, action and cooperation, beyond what we have seen to date. What we expected was that vaccines could be done equitably to vulnerable groups all over the world,” he said.

Dr Rhoda Wanyenze, a lecturer of disease control at the Makerere University School of Public health urged long-term investments in science, technology and infrastructure to mitigate against foreign dependence on vaccines.

“Our government and the AU needs to mobilise African countries to invest in science. Are we going to wait for another 50 years for another pandemic to happen so as to develop a vaccine in three months? Let us equip ourselves to be ready to handle possible future pandemics as opposed to always waiting for help,” she said.