Covid-19 is a global disease. That means, as the Guardian’s Hannah Ellis-Petersen recently wrote, that India’s crisis is the world’s crisis.
India’s devastating second wave is already impacting Africa.
In March, Covax, the global vaccine-sharing initiative, confirmed its plans to allocate the AstraZeneca vaccine to African countries, which make up 40 of the 64 low-income countries being supported by the initiative. Using population size as a guide, Covax’s first allocation round divided up 64.5 million doses of the vaccine to be distributed to African nations through May 2021, all to be manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII).
That plan came to a grinding halt when the SII restricted exports of vaccines towards the end of March, as a second, more virulent wave of Covid-19 swept through the country. “As India confronts a truly dreadful wave of the pandemic, it is clear that all Indian vaccine production—for the next month at least—will be committed to protecting its own citizens,” a spokesperson for Gavi, the vaccine alliance helping to coordinate Covax, told Quartz Africa.
The group is working to secure vaccines from other manufacturers and high-income countries before announcing further allocations.With some of the vials already distributed, vaccine programs on the continent have been thrown into disarray, as countries scramble to delay and find supplies for a second dose.“We find ourselves collectively in a very very dire situation,” Dr. John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centre for Disease Control, said in a recent press briefing.The heat map below, which shows the proportion of initial vaccines allocated through this program to Africa, illustrates the degree to which the continent was dependent on India for its vaccine drives.
The pandemic has also raised critical questions over why Africa was unable to develop its own vaccine, and why its efforts to distribute them have been so slow.
But while African governments can do a lot to improve their vaccine portfolios, procurement, and distribution plans, they shouldn’t stand alone.Yes, countries like the US, Canada, and the UK are pouring money and equipment into the problem.
A more powerful approach would be to stand shoulder to shoulder with those most vulnerable by unlocking their own surplus of vaccines and waiving intellectual property protections in order for countries to manufacture their own generic versions at home.
Western countries must understand that their own recovery from the pandemic is intimately linked to the recovery of the world’s most neglected nations. —Carlos Mureithi and Jackie Bischof