Slow out of the Blocks Only two SADC states put their money where their mouths are on COVI-19 vaccine

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Gaborone- Botswana, Mauritius, Seychelles and South Africa - all SADC member states - are the only African countries that have actively entered the race to secure doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines

 

Of these, just Botswana and South Africa have committed money for purchase of vaccines via a global network that is pooling resources to assist less developed nations secure medication for their citizens.

Even more alarming is that less than half of African countries that are eligible for donor support under the pooled resources campaign - know as the COVAX Facility - have taken the simple step of formally signing up for assistance.

This week, 76 developed countries in principle committed to joining the COVAX Facility, which is co-led by the World Health Organisation, GAVI Vaccines Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, in support of support less wealth nations.

However, few African states have said they too will put up whatever resources they have towards the effort and a handful have said they would like access to free vaccines when they become available.

While the United States has stayed away from the COVAX Facility because of the Donald Trump administration’s animosity towards WHO, the country has secured 800 million doses of at least six potential vaccines for its own citizens.

Many countries have committed billions of dollars in pre-orders of vaccines for their own populaces, with the United Kingdom being world’s highest per-capita buyer after securing 340 million doses at a rate of around five per citizen.

The European Union is also pooling resources for its member states to collectively pre-order vaccines.

The story in Africa, though, is much different with talk of pooled procurement largely remaining theoretical and countries mostly remaining mum on what they are doing to secure potential vaccines for citizens.

This has raised fears that governments are waiting for donor handouts, and that Africa will find itself at the back of the line when a vaccine is found.

WHO Director-General Dr Terdros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said, “By pooling resources and acting in solidarity through the ACT Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, we can ensure that once a vaccine is available for COVID-19, it’s available equitably to all countries.”

WHO says the COVAX Facility needs urgent, broadscale commitment and investment from countries.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven - who pledges his country’s support for COVAX - weighed in saying: “Equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine is the key to beating the virus and paving the way for recovery from the pandemic.

“This cannot be a race with a few winners, and the COVAX Facility is an important part of the solution – making sure all countries can benefit from access to the world’s largest portfolio of candidates and fair and equitable distribution of vaccine doses.”

WHO explained that the COVAX Facility would ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for participating countries, using an allocation framework currently being formulated.

“The COVAX Facility will do this by pooling buying power from participating economies and providing volume guarantees across a range of promising vaccine candidates, allowing those vaccine manufacturers whose expertise is essential to large scale production of the new vaccines, to make early, at-risk investments in manufacturing capacity – providing participating countries and economies with the best chance at rapid access to doses of a successful COVID-19 vaccine,” explained WHO.

WHO Africa Region chief Dr Matshidiso Moeti recently said, “Too often, African countries end up at the back of the queue for new technologies, including vaccines. These life-saving products must be available to everyone, not only those who can afford to pay.”

Further, African countries have shied away from participating in vaccine trials.

Statistics show that African institutions have historically been actively involved in less than two percent of research and development of vaccines.

This prompted Dr Moeti to say: "I encourage more countries in the region to join these trials so that the contexts and immune response of populations in Africa are factored in to studies.

“Africa has the scientific expertise to contribute widely to the search for an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, our researchers have helped develop vaccines which provide protection against communicable diseases such as meningitis, Ebola, yellow fever and a number of other common health threats in the region.”

 

 

A few bright spots

 

While Mauritius and Seychelles have expressed interest in participating in COVAX, WHO says Botswana and South Africa are the only African countries that have actually indicated they will support the initiative from their own budgets.

The two are the only states from the Southern Africa region to have submitted formal expressions of interest.

This is despite the fact that the SADC region is the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa.

South Africa is not only keen on COVAX, it is also in the process of building a vaccine manufacturing plant that will rapidly come online once scientists make a drug breakthrough.

“The aim is to get South Africa into a state of readiness to manufacture an approved COVID-19 vaccine locally. In anticipation of the huge demand, should a candidate vaccine be identified, manufacturing facilities will need to be established in different regions.

“The Southern African Development Community and (the) African continent region as a whole will need to be ready," said South Africa's Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande said.

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