Millions of vaccines manufactured in South Africa are being sent to Europe despite concerns about global vaccine inequality.
32m doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been exported for distribution around Europe, while promises to vaccinate a third of Africans remain unfulfilled.
South Africa ordered 31m doses of the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but according to the New York Times, has only administered about 2m.
With the percentage of Africans fully vaccinated at just 1.7%, the exports to Europe have prompted renewed concern about vaccines not reaching where they’re most needed.
Out of South Africa
There was a condition in the contract between Johnson & Johnson and South Africa that the country would not be able to stop exports. This contrasts the US and the EU, which have imposed restrictions on exports of domestic vaccines.
The South African health ministry said they’d had to sign, or they wouldn’t have received any vaccines.
South African scientist Glenda Gray told the New York Times:
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It’s like a country is making food for the world and sees its food being shipped off to high-resource settings while its citizens starve.
Vaccination in Africa
Much of the continent remains unvaccinated. In the Congo, for example, just 0.1% of the population have received at least one dose.
Meanwhile, Africa is fighting a vicious wave caused by the Delta variant. The WHO has said that coronavirus (Covid-19) deaths increased by 89% in July compared to June.
Johnson & Johnson announced in March 2021 that it had made a deal with the African Union to supply the continent with up to 400m doses. This built on its and other suppliers’ commitments to supply vaccines to the Covax programme for lower-income countries.
The programme currently aims to supply 520m doses to Africa before the end of 2021. But experts say it is likely the majority of people in the lowest-income countries will be left waiting until 2023 for their vaccine.
Wealthier countries began buying up vaccine doses before they were produced, which the WHO warned could affect or delay Covax’s effectiveness.
The WHO is currently recommending that instead of focusing on booster shots, rich countries should send their vaccines to poorer countries.
Many countries have ignored this – including the UK – which has announced plans to start its booster programme in the autumn and is on track to keep 210m spare vaccine doses. Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, stated:
The UK is offering third doses and vaccinating teenagers while low-and middle-income countries are left fighting for scraps.
It’s an insult to the thousands dying each day from Covid-19.
Worse still, this is happening while our government obstructs efforts to enable these countries to manufacture their own vaccines by waiving intellectual property.
We’re keeping the global south dependent on donations while hoarding limited vaccine supplies for ourselves.
That the UK’s unused doses alone could cover the ten least-vaccinated countries on the planet shows the obscene injustice of our approach to global vaccination.
With the buying of booster shots, vaccine manufacturer Pfizer is projecting a revenue of $33.5bn by the end of the year. The sale of booster vaccines will only add to the huge profits vaccine companies have already made; profits that have already created nine new billionaires.
The hoarding of vaccine doses by rich countries and profiteering by companies has been described as a “vaccine apartheid“.
Writing for the BMJ, Health Justice Initiative founder Fatima Hassan, global health professor Gavin Yamey, and BMJ editor Kamran Abbasi said:
Covid-19 global vaccine allocation is based on power, first mover advantage, and the ability to pay. This moral scandal, enabled by corporate and political permission of mass death, is tantamount to a crime against humanity.
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