Africa Centre for Disease Control slams leaders for making empty vaccine promises

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

African Union’s health watchdog slammed world leaders on Thursday of failing to keep their promise to share coronavirus vaccines with poorer countries, putting the disease at risk of becoming endemic.

Africa is experiencing a resurgence of Covid-19 as it falls behind in the worldwide vaccination campaign, with only 3.18 percent of its 1.3 billion people properly immunized.

“We cannot continue to politicize this situation by making pronouncements that we do not back up with firm commitments,” said John Nkengasong, the Director-General of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

“Vaccines do not end up in people’s arms because of pledges.”

Cases are increasing at an alarming rate across the continent.

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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