Leaders make urgent call to accelerate vaccination globally and in Africa

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GENEVA, Switzerland – World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and a group of global health leaders issued an urgent call for vaccine equity globally and in Africa in particular.

The leaders stressed that the worst pandemic in the last hundred years will not end unless and until, there is genuine global cooperation on vaccine supply and access. They also reiterated the WHO’s global vaccination target for 70 percent of the population of all countries to be vaccinated by mid-2022.

“More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2percent of those have been administered in Africa,” Dr Tedros noted. “This doesn’t only hurt the people of Africa, it hurts all of us. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.”

Dr Tedros was joined by Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive officer, Gavi, Strive Masiyima, AU Special Envoy for COVID- 19, Dr John Nkengasong, Africa CDC Director, Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afreximbank, Dr Vera Songwe, UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of the economic commission for Africa and Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

The press conference followed two days of meetings among the leaders, with Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of CEPI joining the meetings as well.

“Vaccine sharing is good but we shouldn’t have to be relying on vaccine sharing. Particularly when we can come to the table, put structures in place and say, we also want to buy. American taxpayers, European taxpayers, they financed some of this intellectual property and it should be for the common good. So, it is not wrong that we say there should be waivers, it was for the common good. So, we ask for this IP to be made available.

“It was a great miracle to have these vaccines, now let this miracle be available to all mankind,” said Strive Masiyima, AU Special Envoy for COVID-19. 

Dr Nkengasong advised that: “We will not be able to achieve 60 percent of our population fully immunised if we do not fully explore and deploy the power of partnership, the power of cooperation, and the power of solidarity” … “We all have acknowledged now that vaccines are the only solution for us to get out of this pandemic collectively. That has to be done quickly.”

Dr Vera Songwe, added: “For every one month of lockdowns in the continent cost us $29 billion of production that was lost. For [the African continent], when we say that COVID-19 is an economic issue and we need to respond to it, to be able to recover and reset our economies, it is real. And for that we need financing and we need to see how we can bring together global financial structures to ensure that we can actually respond to this crisis”.

“We know that scarcity means increased cost, and we cannot afford today as a continent that kind of scarcity.”

Professor Oramah, said: “Africa did not want to once again be at the bottom of queue in regard to vaccines because it was well known to everybody that economy recovery meant bringing the virus under control.”

“It is important that we do this for the simple reason that countries want us to make sure that we do not fail, and make it difficult for us to recover quickly.”

Dr Berkley noted that “today’s meeting is important, as it symbolizes the spirit of partnership between COVAX, the African Union and AVATT: Africa needs more doses and together we will get them. We’re poised to embark on the busiest period of what is the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history. We’ve demonstrated that COVAX can work at scale, but it’s really time for the world to get behind it.”

Dr Moeti said: “The question is sometimes asked do African countries have the capacity to absorb the vaccines? The simple answer is yes. The continuous challenge is that global supplies are not being shared in ways that will get the world out of this pandemic. Hundreds of WHO staff are on the ground, ready to support countries to expand vaccination sites and to manage the complexities of small deliveries of a variety of vaccines.

“What’s more, African countries have done this before – successfully implementing massive vaccination campaigns against polio, yellow fever and cholera.”

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