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Covid-19 vaccination: Time is of the essence

By Simon Mordue | March 5th 2021

We welcome the arrival of the first batch of vaccines in Kenya — one million doses — as a sign that the tide is hopefully starting to turn. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect across the globe and in Kenya.

In response to the emergence of the virus in Kenya in March 2020, the EU and its Member States, including financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank, responded quickly to the immediate needs of Kenyans with a financial package of more than Sh4 billion to support livelihoods, provide small cash grants to the most vulnerable, and ensure continued trade and equitable access to PPE for frontline workers.

Now the arrival of the vaccines here last Tuesday offers a new ray of hope, with the method of distribution to be decided by the Kenyan government.

It is our great hope that the vaccines will save lives and restore livelihoods. But as European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President Josep Borrell has highlighted, this hope can only be delivered upon if the whole world is vaccinated rapidly. We cannot say “we are safe” until everybody is safe, especially with the emergence of the variants of the Covid-19 virus in some countries.

Covid-19 has taught us some important lessons about global solidarity. For the first time in history, a vaccine has gone through the development, regulatory and testing phases — processes that on average take 10 years — in less than 10 months!

This was made possible by global leaders coming together through the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. The COVAX Facility that has emerged as a result is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi and the World Health Organisation, alongside the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Increased international co-operation remains the essential ingredient to ending the Covid-19 crisis, to ensuring public health recovers, and to kick-starting prompt and sustainable social and economic recovery. Governments and inter-governmental organisations — like the European Union, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and its member states — injected public funding in the search for an effective vaccine.

This multilateral approach has made a difference as pharmaceutical companies concentrated on finding a solution to the virus. It also helped that scientists shared knowledge in order to find a solution for the greater good of humanity, and that citizens volunteered to take part in the trials. Laboratories in Kenya notably contributed to that effort!

The European Union has been at the fore in developing the vaccines. Realising that the world needed to quickly develop and deploy effective diagnostics, treatments and a vaccine, the European Union led the world by hosting a global pledging conference for the COVAX Facility on May 4, 2020.

Under the Coronavirus Global Response, the EU Commission and the EIB, together with its international partners, raised over Sh2.1 trillion for the fight against Covid-19 in the medical field.

Further funding by the EU institutions and EU member states was provided in the months that followed, bringing Team Europe’s total contribution specifically for the purchase of vaccines to Sh310 billion, out of a global total of Sh690 billion so far.

However, beyond the figures, the most important contribution that the European Union, including the EIB, has made, is to act as the enabler, by ensuring that the COVAX Facility gets the global financial support it needs in the form of grants, loans and guarantees.

This has allowed the facility to make one billion doses of vaccines available as rapidly as possible to people in low and middle-income countries.

Team Europe’s work is motivated by the need for fair and equitable access to the Covid-19 vaccines for millions of people — regardless of income — across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Pacific, and in Europe’s eastern and southern neighbourhood. In addition, Team Europe has provided Sh13.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for the rollout of the vaccination in Africa.

In partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control, the funding is being used to strengthen health systems, ensure cold chains, and buy equipment and train staff, in order to support the distribution of the vaccines.

Looking ahead, what started as a trickle should become a flow. Team Europe will also work with vaccine developers to ramp up their manufacturing capacities in Africa.

Furthermore, we are exploring potential support to boost local production under licensing arrangements as a means to boost vaccines production. This will help address the current needs and prepare the continent for any future pandemics.

Mr Mordue is the EU Ambassador to Kenya

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