Vaccine race has led to 'total collapse' of global co-operation, according to African agency

Vaccine race has led to 'total collapse' of global co-operation, according to African agency

The United States supports a Trips (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) waiver agreement, but the European Union does not. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP

While Ireland celebrates what we hope will be the light at the end of the tunnel in the pandemic, the vaccine race internationally has seen the "total collapse" of global co-operation according to those fighting Covid-19 in Africa.

In announcing the easing of almost all restrictions in Ireland, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said vaccines were one of the main contributors. Many countries don't have that luxury as the jabs haven't been shared equally.

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said: “What we have seen over the last two years is the total collapse of global solidarity and co-operation.” 

'If we do not protect and vaccinate at scale and at speed then even those who have been vaccinated will be challenged,' said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 
'If we do not protect and vaccinate at scale and at speed then even those who have been vaccinated will be challenged,' said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 

He told a World Health Organization webinar there is no good reason why the vaccination rate across the continent is just 7% on average.

“It is unacceptable,” he said. “The moral failures we have witnessed over the last two years cannot repeat themselves in 2022.” 

Mr Nkengasong called for a “massive co-ordinated effort” to protect against new variants: 

We have seen what Omicron has done. We said this at the start that if we do not protect and vaccinate at scale and at speed then even those who have been vaccinated will be challenged.

Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam Ireland wants people in Ireland to put pressure on the Government to change how the EU views vaccines.

Around 18 months ago, a Trips (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) waiver agreement was suggested which would temporarily waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines. The US supports this but the EU does not.

Mr Clarken reiterated the oft-voiced call for vaccine companies to share vaccine intellectual property, pointing out it was done for HIV/Aids medication, even though, at that time, companies insisted it was not possible.

“It’s not about us or them, everyone needs to be vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated,” he said.

Many low-income countries rely on donated vaccines, but he said these can arrive with limited expiry dates or do not match the needs of a particular country.

He said arguments heard at government level here that vaccine hesitancy is why rates are so low in African countries, are “insulting". 

'Everyone needs to be vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated,' said Jim Clarken, the CEO of Oxfam Ireland.
'Everyone needs to be vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated,' said Jim Clarken, the CEO of Oxfam Ireland.

Karen O’Keefe, director of corporate affairs at Pfizer Ireland pointed to vaccine hesitancy, but also problems such as limited access to ultra-cold storage, syringe supply, and workforce constraints.

Pfizer is supporting a project in Ghana to deliver vaccines with drones, but Ms O'Keeffe said they do not think sharing vaccine intellectual property is a solution.

“mRNA manufacturing is really complex," she said. "Before last year there wasn’t any mRNA capability at all. The raw ingredients that are needed for the vaccine are scarce, there are 280 ingredients.” 

The company said it has fulfilled its commitment to deliver 40m doses through the Covax (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) agreement for low-income countries.

Likewise, AstraZeneca does not see the Trips waiver as the way to vaccinate poorer countries.

“We believe that an open license has the potential to actually damage the vaccine as we would lose control of safety and quality standards for our vaccine manufacturing,” a spokesman for AstraZeneca Ireland said.

Its agreement with Covax has seen “more than 260m doses delivered to 130 countries.”

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