John Nkengasong, director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, shared concerns about Africa being left out of vaccine distribution as the world’s richest countries begin to distribute newly approved vaccines for COVID-19.
“How do we develop a framework for fair, equitable, timely distribution of COVID-19 vaccine?” Nkengasong said during a COVID-19 briefing last week.
The director continued that his appeal is to countries that bought three to four times the amount of vaccines they needed and for them to be shared with countries that are poorer.
“It will be an extremely unpleasing view to see Africa stalled and not be vaccinated while witnessing the whole world be vaccinated. That will become a moral issue that we have to be very, very careful with.”
Nkengasong’s warning comes as the continent of 54 countries has seen a surge in COVID-19, adding 100,000 new cases last week with more than 2.3 million reported infections in total.
The director said the countries reporting the most new cases are South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Kenya.
“Unless we try to vaccinate at least 60 percent of our population we will definitely have COVID as an endemic on our continent,” he said. “Africa already has enough endemic diseases we don’t need COVID to become disruptive and continue to challenge health systems in the manner that other diseases have.”
The director says the 60 percent vaccine target to reach herd immunity is a target the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is taking seriously.
But he says they will not get there if some countries hoard vaccines they don’t need.
“My appeal to those who have acquired more or excess vaccines is ‘Let’s sit down around the table…a special session at the UN and just really have an open courageous dialogue that will establish trust,’” Nkengasong said. “That will establish credibility and speak to all that we’ve been seeing from the pandemic. We need to show global cooperation, global solidarity. The time for that is now.”
The World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus echoed Nkengasong’s sentiments during a United Nations General Assembly meeting in early December.
“We simply cannot accept a world in which the poor and marginalized are trampled by the rich and powerful in the stampede for vaccines,” Tedros said.
The director-general added that the light at the end of the tunnel is “growing steadily brighter” towards the end of the pandemic, but greed from some nations can slow progress down.
“This is a global crisis and all vaccines and therapeutics must be shared equitably as global public goods, not as private commodities,” Tedros said.