“The scientific community has set a new standard for vaccine development. Now the international community must set a new standard for access.” - Tedros Adhanom, WHO Director-General.
Global Health issues extend beyond national borders, and cannot be resolved by any single nation. This is obviously the case with the COVID pandemic. With the continual emergence of new COVID strains around the world, a global health approach is the only way to end the pandemic.
It is an incredible achievement that, within a year of the emergence of COVID-19, vaccines have been developed that, with rigorous testing, have been proven safe and effective. As of the 22nd February, COVID vaccines are being administered in 90 of the world’s nations. These include 57 high-income countries and 33 middle-income countries, but not a single low-income country.
COVAX is a joint initiative, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), that aims to ensure that COVID vaccines are shared fairly among all nations. Having raised US $6 billion (with a target of US $ 8 billion), COVAX plans to deliver more than 2 billion vaccine doses to 190 countries in less than a year. In Africa, 35 low-income countries will receive COVID vaccines from COVAX at no cost. In addition to COVAX efforts, the African Union has secured 670 million vaccine doses for Africa, to be distributed in 2021 and 2022, as countries secure their own financing.
In what will be Africa’s largest ever mass vaccination campaign, COVAX will start shipping nearly 90 million vaccine doses to Africa this month. The initial phase of vaccine deployment will enable the immunisation of 3% of the African population, starting with health care workers. By the end of the year, COVAX aims to vaccinate at least 20% of people in Africa.
However, COVAX shipments will depend on the production capabilities of vaccine manufacturers, as well as the readiness of countries. Recipient countries are required to submit adequate national deployment and vaccination plans, if they are to receive vaccines. In January, the WHO assessed African nations, on average, to be 42% ready for their mass-vaccination campaigns. Despite showing progress, much work is required for African nations to reach the desired readiness benchmark of 80%.
Health systems must be strengthened if COVID vaccination is to be rolled out effectively across Africa. However, it is encouraging to see current advances across all sectors, as the world comes together in the fight to eliminate the global pandemic.
Ben Campbell (Sydney) is the CEO Africa Enterprise.