Covid-19 vaccine: Measures are in place to ensure Africa is not left behind if one is approved

  • Once Covid-19 vaccines become available, fair access for all countries will need to be ensured
  • COVAX, co-led by WHO, is a global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access worldwide
  • This is to prevent richer countries from rushing to the front of the line, leaving poorer countries behind

Most experts think a Covid-19 vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021, but it is the need to ensure equitable access for all countries that has become a hot topic.

Speaking at the World Health Organization, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Equatorial Guinea media briefing today, Dr Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said that when it does become available, 30% of the population of African countries will have access to the vaccine.

When a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, the COVAX initiative, which is being co-led by Gavi, CEPI, and WHO, will guarantee fair and equitable access to the Covid-19 vaccine for every country in the world. The organisations are working in partnership with vaccine manufacturers in developed and developing countries.

How CEPI is supporting vaccine access in Africa

According to Hatchett, CEPI started working early on in the pandemic to devise systems that would allow equitable allocation and procurement of vaccines to countries worldwide, and that the initiative sees it as an ethics of vaccine multilateralism, which they have contrasted to vaccine nationalism, which happens when a country’s government manages to secure vaccine doses for its own citizens before it’s made available to other countries.

“The COVAX initiative is really the only initiative to ensure equitable access to vaccines. It has brought together over 170 countries that have expressed interest. We want to end the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021,” said Hatchett.

The CEO added that COVAX’s overall objective is to secure in the region of two billion doses of the vaccine by 2021, and to ensure countries can meet the needs of at least 20% of their populations.

The populations that will be targeted will be those at greatest risk of acquiring the disease, including healthcare workers, and those who are at risk of severe Covid-19 illness and death, such as the elderly.

Two CEPI-funded vaccines being tested in SA

Hatchett also explained that two out of the more than 30 candidate Covid-19 vaccines that have entered human clinical trials have been funded by CEPI. These are the vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca and Novavax, and both of these vaccines are being tested in South Africa.

“They’re the first vaccines to be tested on the African continent. We hope that there will be more. We have been working closely with the director of Africa’s CDC, Dr John Nkengasong, who is a CEPI board member, as he has developed the African vaccine strategy that was presented and approved by the African Union,” Hatchett said.

African countries must have capability to produce vaccines

Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO, Programme Area Manager, explained that, globally, there is a major challenge to produce enough vaccines to cover the entire population, but that discussions are currently taking place to avoid this problem in potential future pandemics. 

“There are a lot of discussions and initiatives on the continent to make sure that the situation we are in today changes; that after Covid-19, African countries can have the capability to produce vaccines in case of an emergency or a pandemic like this.”

Will African countries receive the vaccines in good time?

“One of the propositions behind COVAX is that, unlike in 2009 (with the H1N1/swine flu pandemic), where vaccines went to wealthy countries first, and then to countries that were not as well off, the idea behind COVAX is that when vaccines are shown to be effective, they will be delivered at the same time to populations in wealthy countries, middle-income countries, and in lower-income countries,” said Hatchett.

One thing we do know, said Hatchett, is that when vaccines become available, they will initially be available in comparatively small quantities, and so it is critical that they be used in the most effective way possible.

“Our hypothesis is that if we use the vaccine to protect those in our healthcare systems, and to prevent needless suffering and death, we can take the sting out of the pandemic, and we can do that much more rapidly and won’t need to vaccinate 100% of the population to do that, but we do need to do that globally.

“And so our goal is to deliver the vaccine at the same time to countries at all income levels and to promote prioritisation among the populations that need it most,” said Hatchett.  

Image: Pexels

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