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Rich countries slowly accept the pitfalls of vaccine nationalism

The US and European countries, while prioritising their own populations for vaccination, are beginning to commit to a more credible global policy on immunisation

French President Macron and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson were among the first to pledge to offer surplus vaccine supplies at the end of last week, with Johnson also urging G7 leaders to support a treaty on pandemic preparedness through the World Health Organization at a virtual summit on Friday (19 February).

Wealthy countries also backed a new 100-day target for the development of new vaccines for future emerging diseases.

But neither gave any detail on when the vaccine supplies are likely to reach Africa, and world leaders appear happier to offer cash than firm timelines on when Covid-19 vaccines will become available (AC Vol 62 No 2, A scramble for vaccines). The European Union and Germany pledged a further €1.4bn to fund vaccine procurement across Africa following the G7 summit.

The threat of vaccine nationalism is one of the contributing factors to the growing concerns about the access of African countries to the different Covid-19 vaccines. The United Nations' COVAX programme only committed to providing up to 20% of a country's population and, optimistically, that is unlikely to be rolled out before autumn.

Research by the ONE campaign group suggests that Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, the United States, and the EU have already secured more than three billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines between them, more than one billion more than they need to give their entire populations two doses. 

'Nobody will be protected against Covid-19, until everybody is. There will be no economic or social recovery, unless we prioritise an equal global health recovery,' stated the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Newly appointed World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has made African access to the vaccines her first personal campaign, a logical move given her previous post leading the global vaccine alliance, GAVI (AC Vol 62 No 3, Okonjo-Iweala to take over as WTO chief within days). 

Wealthy countries have so far rejected the idea of lifting patent restrictions that would allow Covid-19 to be mass produced in Africa and elsewhere, citing the need to respect intellectual property rights. That could be Okonjo-Iweala's first port of call.

Timing is key. If Africa cannot vaccinate the bulk of its people by the end of 2021 that will hurt trade and tourism, in addition to the massive public health implications.

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