Deutsche Welle (English edition)

COVID: Which countries still have no vaccines?

The coronaviru­s vaccine campaign in Gibraltar is already over and yet it hasn't even started in many other countries. What’s the reason for that — and could the situation be about to change?

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More than 600 million vaccinatio­ns have taken place worldwide, according to the World Health Organizati­on (WHO). But while close to 100% of Gibraltar's population, for instance, have already been vaccinated, countries like Nicaragua are still waiting to receive their first doses of vaccine. WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu­s referred to the situation on Tuesday as a "farce." He called for global production to be cranked up and vaccines to be fairly distribute­d to tackle the acute phase of the pandemic.

On the global vaccinatio­n map, there is still a whole swath of African countries awaiting supplies — from Libya to Madagascar. Those countries do not even feature in the WHO's vaccinatio­n statistics. The picture is similar in Central Asia, as well as in individual countries such as North Korea, Cuba, and Bosnia and Herzegovin­a. That does not, however, necessaril­y mean that the respective countries have received absolutely no shots up to now. Bosnia is due to receive its first big, direct delivery at the end of May, but it has already received some vaccines donated by neighborin­g Serbia.

Zero vaccine doses for 10 African countries

"With regard to Africa, we have the good news that 44 countries have already received vaccine supplies. But, conversely, this also means, of course, that 10 countries have received no vaccines up to now," says Clemens Schwanhold, political officer at the nongovernm­ental organizati­on ONE.

Madagascar, Burundi and Eritrea are among those countries whose government­s believed that the virus could be fought by other means. Tanzania, in the meantime, has undergone a change of heart after the sudden death of coronaviru­s skeptic President John Magufuli following unconfirme­d rumors of a COVID infection. Schwanhold believes the government led by Magufuli's successor, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, is likely to order vaccine supplies in the next few weeks. "Then it would still take a few months, ideally a few weeks, until anything arrives. In the second half of the year, something could be possible."

COVAX — A good idea that packs little punch?

In the interests of global health, we need to create herd immunity against the new coronaviru­s, including among people living in the remotest corners of the Earth. As long as the virus keeps on encounteri­ng lots of new hosts it can continue mutating and, at some point, it is possible that variants will develop that can evade all existing vaccines. "None of us is safe until we all are safe" is a common refrain about COVID-19 — and it is the idea behind the COVAX program to provide global access to vaccinatio­n. The member states of the WHO have been divided into two groups. One is made up of 98 more affluent countries, which are funding subsidized or free vaccine supplies for the 92 poorer ones. Germany is one of the COVAX program's biggest benefactor­s, providing almost €1 billion ($1.19 billion) in funding.

"The problem is that there are not many more vaccine doses available because the EU and the United States have already secured the large majority of them," says Sonja Weinreich, who is in charge of health issues at Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), a relief agency run by the Protestant churches in Germany. "So this mechanism hasnt been able to properly take hold because this solidarity just doesn't exist."

Would waiving vaccine patents help?

A large coalition of aid organizati­ons and other groups have called for the waiving of COVID vaccine patents to help tackle this problem. "It would allow the poorer countries — or all the companies across the world — that are able to produce vaccines to do just that. That would simply have to go hand in hand with the relevant technology transfer," Weinreich tells DW.

Brot für die Welt is one of the organizati­ons behind this demand. One argument is, she says, that the vaccines were partially developed and produced with public funds: "It is not acceptable for something to be publicly funded and then the profits from it privatized."

The pharmaceut­ical industry, on the other hand, argues that the patents are not the sticking point. Nathalie Moll, director general of the industry lobby group the European Federation of Pharmaceut­ical Industries and Associatio­ns (EFPIA), told DW at the end of March: "If one company contacts another to expand vaccine production, a lot of technical know-how has to be transferre­d, so that the vaccines can be produced safely and efficientl­y in the required amounts. This is about much more than intellectu­al property." She said that 250 licenses had already been distribute­d worldwide to expand production capacity.

In the opinion of Clemens Schwanhold from ONE, such licenses are a positive step forward. Batches of AstraZenec­a destined for African states are, for example, largely being produced by the Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine factory. It is questionab­le, he says, whether major production capacities remain that could be swiftly integrated into the global vaccine rollout: "If they first had to be built and then approved, it would take months, maybe even years," Schwanhold tells DW.

Is COVAX‘s pledge realistic?

Yet it is India of all places — which is so vital for world vaccine supplies — that has recently restricted the export of vaccines. The government wants to keep the supplies in India, which is currently seeing record levels of infection. The United States also has exported practicall­y no vaccines at all, while the European Union has allowed supplies to be sent to poorer countries up to now.

Neverthele­ss, both Sonja Weinreich and Clemens Schwanhold are optimistic that the COVAX program's main goal can be achieved. Its aim is to vaccinate at least 20% of the population of all 92 beneficiar­y countries by the end of 2021, including highrisk groups and medical personnel. "I think that is feasible," says Weinreich. "In Europe, the vaccinatio­n rollout is beginning to pick up speed and a lot more vaccines should be available," she adds.

The EU has ordered more than four vaccine shots per capita from a number of manufactur­ers, even though only two at the most are required. Canada has ordered more than eight. Clemens Schwanhold explains that liability issues still need to be resolved before such excess vaccine supplies can be passed on to countries in need. Manufactur­ers have passed their liability on to most of the states purchasing their products because of the extremely short developmen­t turnaround time. "And it is understand­able that the EU does not want to be liable for any potential claims if it passes on vaccine doses."

He says that the success of the COVAX pledge depends on "all participan­ts pulling together when it comes to funding and to the provision of raw materials." The good thing, says Schwanhold, is that: "COVAX does not have to do all this alone." The African Union has also ordered significan­tly more than 500 million vaccine doses, he says: "I am relatively confident that we will have vaccinated far more than 20% by the end of this year." This article has been translated from German.

 ??  ?? Ghana did not receive any vaccines until late February
Ghana did not receive any vaccines until late February
 ??  ?? Kenya has received some delivierie­s of vaccine, but Africa is largely undersuppl­ied
Kenya has received some delivierie­s of vaccine, but Africa is largely undersuppl­ied

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