China may be Africa’s best bet on Covid-19 vaccine

Many countries around the world are entering a new phase in the Covid-19 global pandemic response – that of vaccination. From Washington to London; Petersburg to Brussels, the race is on to inoculate millions of citizens with the lifesaving jabs.

In Africa, the contrast is stark. Earlier hopes for vaccines have dimmed given that rich economies have already purchased millions of viols from Western producers, pushing African countries to the tail of the queue.

Further, even if Africa was to surmount the cost implications and purchase the vaccines from the producers, the logistics and storage infrastructure that can support the commodities as currently produced, is either none existent or very poorly developed in many parts of the continent.   

African countries such as Kenya have already smelled the coffee, and are increasingly looking elsewhere to guarantee supply of Covid-19 vaccines. Timely supply of affordable and effective vials will not only cushion lives from the disease but more significantly ameliorate the biting economic impacts of coronavirus.

China appears to be the ultimate go-to place for Africa and other developing economies in Asia and Latin America. There are a number of reasons that makes Beijing a partner of choice in the global Covid-19 vaccine politics and economics. 

The Chinese vaccine presents itself as being relatively affordable compared to European or American alternatives, partly because of the technology employed - which also feeds into associated costs along the distribution value chain. This would make serious sense for Africa, at a time of unprecedented financial pressure.

Since the outbreak of the global health crisis, China has demonstrated its commitment to stand with Africa in the fight against the virus. In the initial days, Beijing shared crucial epidemic control experience with African countries. Chinese experts were seconded to the continent to provide on ground support to over 40 countries. This was followed by massive donations of essential commodities ranging from face masks, ventilators, testing kits, protective clothing and medicines. The generosity that continues to date, has paved the way for delivery of vaccines across the continent.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has from time to time reiterated the need for targeted international support that can enable developing economies to overcome the pandemic afflictions. China has equally repeated that African countries will be among the first to benefit from the Chinese vaccine, when it becomes available. Already, this commitment can be gleamed from the fact that China supported production lines are being readied in Egypt and Morocco to ensure adequate and efficient supply to the continent.

Finally, with the severity of the pandemic intensifying in most of the advanced economies. This certainly translates to little motivation to direct any meaningful energy to peripheral territories in places like Africa.

China’s strong epidemics control has seen it bring down infections and restore a sense of normalcy. This accords Beijing significant headroom to look beyond its borders in the global fight to contain the pandemic. Acting within the auspices of World Health Organization led Covax, Beijing has the opportunity to demonstrate its moral fabric in line with its much touted win-win global cooperation agenda.

Phase III clinical trials of the Chinese vaccines are currently underway in a number of countries. Kenya has now expressed interest in joint vaccine research with China, opening ground for Nairobi to participate in trials, alongside Egypt and Morocco. With three promising vaccine candidates, China’s Covid-19 research breakthrough will certainly enliven hopes for millions of people across Africa and the rest of the world.

-The writer is an international relations researcher @Cavinceworld