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Despite denials, vaccine nationalism is rampant

Glitches in distribution in Western countries is holding back efforts to get vaccines to Africa

Vaccine nationalism, along with opacity on pricing and the refusal of Western countries to lift intellectual property restrictions on vaccine manufacture, are among the biggest obstacles facing Africa's campaign against the second wave of the coronavirus across the continent.

The promises from France, the United Kingdom and other western countries to offer their surplus vaccines to Africa still have no timeline (AC Dispatches, Rich countries slowly accept the pitfalls of vaccine nationalism).

In Europe, in particular, there is growing panic among political leaders about the European Commission's botched vaccine procurement programme. Less than 5% of the EU's population has received an inoculation thus far. On Thursday, the Italian government blocked a delivery of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia. If African governments are counting on significant European vaccine support this year, they look likely to be disappointed.

The first batches of Covid-19 vaccines under the Covax scheme have arrived in sub-Saharan Africa. Sudan received over 800,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Khartoum International Airport earlier this week, delivered with UNICEF's support through Covax, the international procurement scheme backed by the World Health Organization (AC Vol 62 No 2, A scramble for vaccines).

Meanwhile, Rwanda received its first batch of 240,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Covax on Wednesday morning, while a consignment of 1,020,000 vaccines arrived in Kenya on Tuesday night. Welcome as this is, the numbers of doses are small and underscores the huge challenge African countries face if they are to vaccinate a significant proportion of their populations by the end of this year.

So, too, does the Kenyan government's plan to vaccinate in three phases 30% of its population (roughly 16 million) by the end of June 2023. Rwanda expects to hit the 30% figure by the end of 2021.

Tanzania, which is not a signatory to the Covax initiative, will not receive any doses of the vaccine from it.

There are other sources of vaccines in the pipeline. The Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has said that 16 countries have expressed interest in purchasing some of the 270 million doses secured through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

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