Health officials and experts around the world on Thursday welcomed a US plan to donate an additional 500 million COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, but celebrations came with reluctance.
For example, when exactly will those vaccines reach the areas left behind by the global race that are now feeling the bite with deadly new waves of viral infection? And how many other rich countries will follow the US’s lead to meet the growing need?
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the Biden administration’s promise to buy and share Pfizer’s vaccines was “clear cause for celebration.” There are still countries that have not given a single dose.
“It’s definitely going to be a huge help,” said Nkengasong, though he noted that he was keen to understand the exact schedule of shots that I hope will head to his continent.
Two hundred million doses — enough to fully protect 100 million people — will be made available this year, with the remaining balance donated in the first half of 2022, according to the White House. The United States will work with the UN-backed COVAX coalition to provide the shots. Some have noted that because Pfizer’s vaccines require extremely cold storage, they present an additional logistical challenge for countries with poor health systems and infrastructure.
US President Joe Biden is expected to speak about the plan later Thursday in a speech on the eve of the G7 summit in Britain.
Disparities in vaccine supplies are worryingly clear
This summit may also give a crucial indication of whether, to what extent, other nations in the elite club are willing to follow up on the US on vaccine sharing, amid widespread criticism that the wealthiest nations have so far fallen tatters, despite lofty promises. justice when vaccines were available. being developed.
Inequality in vaccine supplies around the world has become alarmingly evident in recent months, as wealthier nations scrambled to vaccinate large swathes of their populations while poorer nations struggle to secure doses. Inequality is not just a matter of fairness: There is also growing concern about newer viral variants emerging from areas with an ever-higher circulation of COVID-19.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in the Times of London that it was time for rich countries to “assume their responsibilities” and “vaccinate the world”, although his country has yet to announce any solid plan to share vaccines with countries in need.
Watch | The National takes a look at the need for vaccinations at 3 hot spots:
France has been insisting on the importance of helping Africa, in particular, with vaccines since last year, and President Emmanuel Macron said he brought 100,000 vaccine doses with him on a trip to Rwanda last month. Macron promised that France will donate 30 million doses through COVAX by the end of the year, of which half a million will be by mid-June.
Canada has been criticized by some for not sharing doses and taking a small amount of COVAX stock. The Liberal government doubled its commitment to COVAX last week in terms of its cash contribution, to C$440 million, with International Development Secretary Karina Gould saying Canada so far has no “overdose” but will look to get involved once it does.
The promises of rich nations, some of which have surplus vaccines, have often been criticized as being too little or too late — or both.
“While the Biden plan is welcome, it is a small piece of the puzzle, and it does not help countries that are now struggling,” said Viva Rahman, a civil society representative for a WHO body focused on increasing access to the WHO. COVID-19 vaccines, among others.
She cited the East African nation of Uganda as an example, saying the country’s intensive care units are already full, with only a few vaccinations left.
“This is just one example of a country that needs vaccines now,” Abdul Rahman said. “Later this year it is too late and comes at the cost of lives.”
There are many examples of dire need around the world, such as Haiti, on America’s doorstep, which is still waiting for its first shipment of vaccines six months after some rich countries start their programmes.
“It is precisely the actions of the G7 governments, among other things, that have led to the serious global disparities we see in access to medical tools for COVID-19 now,” MSF said.
As countries around the world struggle to obtain vaccines, unable to secure their own deals with companies like Pfizer, many have turned to China, which has exported 350 million doses of its vaccines to dozens of countries, according to the State Department.
While Chinese vaccines have faced scrutiny over a lack of transparency in sharing clinical trial data, many countries have been eager to receive anything at all.
The shots promised by the Biden administration will go to 92 low-income countries and the African Union. Pfizer said the doses are part of an earlier pledge, with its partner BioNTech, to provide 2 billion doses to developing countries over the next 18 months.
The White House had previously announced plans to share 80 million doses globally by the end of June, mostly through COVAX.
Watch | The former US pandemic preparedness official talks to CBC News about the need for global cooperation:
More to track …
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