Africa CDC slams leaders for hollow vaccine pledges

FILE PHOTO: John Nkengasong, Africa’s Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), speaks during an interview with Reuters at the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2020. To match Special Report HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/AFRICA-CEPHEID REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

The African Union’s health watchdog accused world leaders Thursday of falling short in their pledge to share coronavirus vaccines with poorer nations, and their failure risked making the disease endemic.

Africa is facing a Covid-19 resurgence as it lags in the global vaccination drive, with just 3.18 percent of its 1.3-billion population fully inoculated.

“We cannot continue to politicise this situation by making statements that we do not follow through with firm commitments,” John Nkengasong, head of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said.

“Pledges do not put vaccines into peoples’ arms.”

Across the continent, cases are rising at an alarming rate.

More than 40 countries are experiencing a third wave of infection and six are grappling with their fourth, even as life in many wealthy nations is returning to normal thanks to high inoculation figures.

Facing anger over unequal access to jabs, the Group of Seven industrialised powers pledged in June to provide a billion Covid vaccines with developing nations, up from 130 million promised in February.

The G7 plan also included commitments to avert future pandemics — slashing time taken to develop and licence vaccines to under 100 days, reinforcing global surveillance and strengthening the WHO.

But Nkengasong said the doses had yet to materialise.

“We have not seen a billion vaccines,” he told an online press briefing.

“We are not as a continent very keen in any definition of vaccine diplomacy that would mean people make statements in the media that are not backed with reality,” he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Wednesday urged rich nations to give priority to getting first jabs for health workers and vulnerable populations in poorer nations over supplying boosters to their own citizens.

It is estimated Africa will need 1.5 billion vaccine doses to immunise 60 percent of its inhabitants and achieve some level of herd immunity.

“We are not going to win this war against the pandemic if we do not vaccinate everybody at speed,” said Nkengasong.

“Otherwise we should brace ourself to live with this virus as an endemic disease going forward.”

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