By Kevin Naughton
The rollout of the long anticipated Covid-19 vaccines has begun. However, the speed of this rollout varies significantly from country to country.
Countries that approved vaccines earlier have naturally since seen a higher percentage of their population receive their injection. In Ireland, the vaccination process is progressing at a steady pace.
However, in most developing countries, vaccinations have yet to begin and might not for some time. All the while, Covid-19 case numbers and deaths are increasing in the world’s most vulnerable communities.
Fears of ‘Vaccine Hoarding’
In Zimbabwe, as a result of the new South African variant of Covid-19, there has been a surge in infections since December. And seemingly, no vaccines on the horizon.
There is a lot of discussion and debate around how to ensure low and middle-income countries especially in Africa, receive their fair share. Fears that vaccines will be “hoarded” by richer countries remain.
According to the Peoples Vaccine Alliance, rich countries representing just 14% of the global population have already purchased 53% of the current global vaccine supply.
This is why COVAX was established. Coordinated through the WHO and the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), this collaboration of global health actors, pharmaceutical companies and civil society organisations seeks to accelerate the production and distribution of vaccines and ensure that all country governments, especially lower-income countries, receive an equitable share. GOAL is part of these discussions and is working hard to ensure we support this effort where we can, including on the ground in our operational countries.
Delays until 2024
The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that most African counties will not see widespread vaccination of their populations until 2022 at the earliest, and possibly as late as 2024.
There are two main reasons why vaccines are slow to arrive in developing countries.
1: Many countries lack the financial resources to bulk buy vaccines, especially when the price is being pushed up by competition between richer countries.
2: Many of the vaccines, such as the one produced by Pfizer, require cold temperature storage of up to -70 degrees celsius. This type of cold storage facility is not something commonly seen in developing countries. Such countries often lack medical supplies and normal refrigeration capacity for routine vaccination programmes.
The AstraZeneca vaccine currently appears to be one of the better options for scaling up vaccination in the developing world as it does not require such extreme storage conditions. Similarly, the yet to be approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires regular refrigeration to be shipped and stored and, better still, only requires one dose. This vaccine could be a game changer.
Marie Hallissey, GOAL’s Global Health Advisor says: “It’s imperative that high-income countries do not hoard the supply of these types of vaccines which are appropriate for use and distribution in countries which lack the advanced facilities that countries like Ireland possess. Approval of these vaccines also needs to be expedited to ensure vaccination programmes can be scaled up quickly in low-income countries.”
“Developing countries have been hit hard by the pandemic, but often in ways that are less obvious. The younger populations may be masking widespread transmission through asymptomatic cases. Alack of testing capacity has also led to a ‘low’ number of cases and deaths being reported in many countries. The true number of affected people may never be truly known.”
Impact on livelihoods
Additionally, lockdowns and public health measures have had devastating impacts on the livelihoods and income of more vulnerable communities. A local lockdown and the closure of business can throw entire communities into poverty and despair.
“Most people in low-income countries rely on day to day earning. If a market is closed or a job is lost, there is little or no financial support from the government for people to fall back on,” Marie concluded.
As a result, the United Nation reckons an additional 270 million will face extreme hunger this year due to the effects of the pandemic.
In 2020, GOAL supported over 17 million people with Covid-19 supports and messaging. In 2021 we will continue to support the most vulnerable communities and their right to equitable access to vaccines.