The international target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid by mid-2022 was missed because the poorest countries were at the “end of the line” when the vaccines were rolled out, campaigners say.
The latest figures from Our world in data show huge inequalities in vaccination rates around the world, with only one in seven people in low-income countries fully vaccinated. By comparison, nearly three out of four people in high-income countries have been vaccinated for about a year.
Activists are calling for a new effort to increase uptake of vaccines around the world to slow the spread of the virus and prevent future variants. Their call comes as the World Health Organization said this week that Covid infections in Europe had tripled and hospitalizations had doubled in the past six weeks, with deaths totaling 3,000 a week.
“Unless we achieve equitable action to fight this pandemic, it will always stay with us in the world,” said Kavengo Matundu, Africa Coordinator of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty ( GCAP), which has worked with frontline groups on the Covid response. . “He has shown that he is capable of mutating into anything and can become something more dangerous than the original.”
When the first vaccines rolled out globally in 2020, low-income countries had to wait months to receive doses through the Covax vaccine-sharing system or other donors. Rich countries had purchased the lion’s share of available vaccines.
When they arrived, the doses of vaccines were sometimes close to their expiry date or insufficient to meet the demands of the health centres. That, said Maaza Seyoum, Global South coordinator of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, has left people frustrated and reluctant to return to vaccination centers.
The emergence of new variants — particularly the Delta wave, which has led to high death rates in some countries — has helped convince some that vaccines don’t work. “Even if there is all this naive and hopeful talk, when things get tough, we can’t rely on rich countries to do the right thing,” Seyoum said.
“The world’s poorest countries have found themselves at the back of the queue, making it seem like some lives matter more than others.”
She added: “The pandemic and the economic problems that come with it – some of the data we have seen show that an additional 100 million people have been pushed into poverty by this pandemic – make it difficult when you ask the people in that environment for taking a huge amount of their money to line up for a vaccine.
“We have to imagine how we would feel if we tried to access a service that we were told was delayed again and again.”
According to figures from Our World in Data, as of July 10, only 15.8% of people in low-income countries were fully immunized, compared to 55% in lower-middle-income countries, 73.5% in high-income countries and 78.7% in higher income countries. middle-income country.
Africa has the lowest number of vaccinated people. With the exception of Eritrea and North Korea, which have not yet launched vaccination programs, seven of the 10 countries with the lowest full vaccination rates in the world are in Africa. The other three countries are Papua New Guinea, Haiti and Yemen. The UK’s booster vaccination rate is already well above those countries’ standard vaccination rates.
Seyoum said Covax was “a great idea built out of solidarity”, but failed “because of greed and poor planning”.
The latest data from the Duke Center for Global Health Innovationwhich covers the period up to June 9, shows that Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom have purchased enough doses of vaccine to vaccinate their populations several times over: 11.1, 9.9 and 7.6 doses per person, respectively.
In contrast, South Africa was able to purchase the equivalent of 0.5 doses per person. That of the African Union purchase of 330 million doses of Moderna and Janssen vaccines amounted to just 0.2 doses per person across the bloc.
The UA and Covax declined opportunities to purchase doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine, which has a short shelf life, and Modern, which must be stored at very cold temperatures. Neither is suitable for countries without decent transport and cold chain infrastructure.
Covax said the “ad hoc” delivery of vaccines last year made it difficult for poorer countries to plan their vaccine rollouts. With more vaccines now available, he called for deliveries to match schedules needed by low-income countries to plan their vaccination campaigns.
Dr Fifa Rahman, civil society representative on the WHO’s Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, said more people from low-income countries should be included in discussions about rolling out the vaccine.
The Vaccine Delivery Partnership – an inter-agency organization to accelerate vaccine coverage – was doing “great work, but it was extremely late”. “It was almost negligently late, because you have a bunch of New Yorkers in a room making decisions about Africa,” she said.
Seyoum said: “Rich countries keep thinking that if they protect themselves they will get out of the pandemic, but that is, from a public health perspective, completely ridiculous. It sounds trite, but as the head of the WHO said last year: none of us are safe until we all are.
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