NAIROBI: African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for continent blows up Europe as Africa struggles amid crushing third wave of infections , saying Thursday that “not a dose, not a vial, left a factory for Africa.
Strive Masiyiwa also targeted the global effort to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information, including that major donors had failed to keep their funding pledges. He did not name which donors.
“The situation could be very different if we had known in December that ‘listen, this help is not coming, just do it yourselves’,” Masiyiwa told reporters, adding that “many countries were just sitting there saying:” the vaccines are coming. ‘… As Africans we are disappointed.
The criticism has revealed the sheer exasperation of African leaders at the dramatic vaccine divide around the world, with Masiyiwa describing vaccinated and unmasked Europeans attending football matches when only 1% of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
He pointed out that Africa has bought 400 million doses of vaccines and can buy more, but he challenged donors: “Pay your money… We will no longer measure pledges, we will measure vaccines coming in. our airports.
The African continent of 1.3 billion people is now in the grip of a third wave of infections “extremely aggressive”, told reporters the head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong. Health officials have described overwhelmed COVID-19 services, dangerous oxygen shortages and an increasing spread of the virus in extremely vulnerable and unequipped rural areas.
Masiyiwa said COVAX promised to deliver 700 million doses of the vaccine to Africa by December. But by mid-year, Africa had only received 65 million doses in total. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.
“We are very far from our target,” Nkengasong said. “We don’t want to be seen as the continent of COVID… (In Europe) the stadiums are full of young people shouting and kissing. We cannot do this in Africa. COVAX spokespersons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, Nkengasong and Masiyiwa have announced that the first deliveries of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines with U.S. backing will start arriving next week. It was not clear how many doses would be in these first shipments.
Meanwhile, more doses purchased in Africa will arrive in August, Masiyiwa said.
The African continent has recorded 5.5 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and has seen a “remarkable” 23% increase in deaths over the past week, the Africa CDC director said.
He said the continent needed 1.6 billion doses in a double-dose regimen, or 800 million in a single-dose regimen, to meet the goal of immunizing 60 percent of the population.
Masiyiwa frankly explained where global efforts to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 have failed. “It became quite clear in December that the hope that we as a global community would go and buy vaccines together through COVAX was not being met, especially by rich and powerful nations,” he said.
COVAX aimed to provide 20 percent of Africa’s vaccine needs, with African countries doing the rest, he said. But “no matter how much money your country has, they couldn’t buy vaccines… I’ve never seen presidents go to such lengths to call for CEOs.”
The African continent has relied on vaccine manufacturing capabilities elsewhere in the world, but the COVID-19 vaccine crisis has pushed African leaders to pursue their own production power.
Step by step, Masiyiwa outlined the challenges: Vaccine suppliers demand purchases in advance, and the World Bank could only lend to countries when vaccines are available. African nations scrambled via Africa Export-Import
Bank, owned by member states, to provide some $ 2 billion. African countries have created a purchasing platform to improve their purchasing power.
But vaccines have been hard to come by as countries with manufacturing capabilities have imposed controls on export sales in the interest of vaccinating their own citizens first. “It was the same as we were talking in the East, in the West, whatever,” Masiyiwa said. “It created a massive crisis. “
He was particularly interested in Europe: “When we go to talk to their manufacturers, they tell us that they are completely at the maximum to meet the needs of Europe, we are referred to India. But the European Union is now imposing public health restrictions on people vaccinated with Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine accepted by the EU.
“So how do you come to a situation where they give money to COVAX, who go to India to buy vaccines, and then they tell us those vaccines are not valid?” Masiyiwa said. “Obviously the problem is there. “
Without mentioning the EU issue, COVAX warned in a statement Thursday that “any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the reopening of travel to and to this region would effectively create a dual tiered system, further widening the global vaccine divide. ”
Some countries are engaging in so-called vaccine diplomacy and these bilateral donations are welcome, Masiyiwa said, but they are not enough to “move the needle”.