There is anxiety again across Africa over low Covid vaccine supplies following announcements by several Western governments that they will start giving Covid-19 booster shots to their fully vaccinated populations.
It has since emerged that Europe is importing Johnson & Johnson vaccines from South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare, which was only recently licensed to begin production especially for African countries which had been locked out of the international supply chain.
Africa is still undersupplied, even with the increased Covax deliveries and donations from Western capitals, and thus the uproar by African vaccine equity activists on the disclosure by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown of 10 million shots shipments to Europe from Aspen. His opinion piece published by The Guardian was the subject of anger and question why a section of the globe, already fully vaccinated, would be taking the few doses of vaccines from a population in crisis. Mr Brown wrote that the vaccines would be exported to Europe in August and September 2021.
By Friday, as per the official UK government website on coronavirus data, 87.3 percent of its (eligible) population had received the first Covid-19 dose, while 75.7 percent had received the second dose. Meanwhile, only 1.85 percent of Africa’s 1.3 billion people had been fully vaccinated by Friday.
There were demonstrations in South Africa, calling for full disclosure of the South African government’s contract with Johnson & Johnson and other vaccine manufacturers, in the face of legal action if none was forthcoming.
Following slow progress of the UN-backed World Health Organisation-led Covax facility to fast-track vaccine availability for African countries, Aspen, a South African drug manufacturer, was contracted by Johnson & Johnson to manufacture its vaccine under the “fill and finish” process.
WHO Regional Office for Africa Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said Thursday, “Just as our efforts seemed to be taking off, Africa is again encountering headwinds. Some rich countries continue to hoard vaccines, mocking vaccine equity There is an average of more than 103 administered doses per hundred people in high income countries compared with six per hundred in Africa.”
She said failure to vaccinate the most at-risk groups in all countries will result in needless deaths, as well as bring conditions where the virus will very likely mutate further ultimately delaying the global recovery from the pandemic as newer more lethal variants emerge.
Mr Brown accused the EU of adopting a “neocolonial approach” to the supply of vaccines and demanded western nations relinquish their stranglehold on pandemic treatments.
“...in the process of securing preferential agreements rich countries locked out African countries from accessing the doses they urgently require.”