Covid-19 vaccination is the new front for global inequalities

A doctor shows vials of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine [Reuters, Leonhard Foeger]

More than three billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in over 190 countries. Margaret Keenan, a 91-year-old grandmother, would make history as the first person on earth to receive a Covid-19 jab of the Pfizer vaccine.

Then the vaccine race ostensibly began as countries raced against time to vaccinate their populations at a time when the coronavirus ferociously ravaged countries. Weakening human bodies and claiming lives. More than two million people globally have died from the virus since. Once again, the Global South is taking a hit as they watch the top countries stockpile and vaccinate their people in droves.

Only about one per cent of those vaccinated come from the African continent. We watch as nations vaccinate their way out of the pandemic waiting for donations from countries with excess vaccines, but even this poses its own distribution challenges for most of the recipient countries as they come with expiry dates. The Global South once again left behind during such a critical phase for humanity that really is a matter of life and death for many. And it is not just a health problem, economies have been severely battered, socio-economic gains made over the years lost, the standards of living dwindled yet we know not when this shall come to pass.

The wait-and-see state the continent found itself in has proven costly but without the financial muscle and other resources to deal with the problem, you could see why most African countries were seen to be groping in the dark for the best part of this pandemic period. Here in Kenya, only about 500,000 Kenyan adults have been fully vaccinated; translating to a paltry 1.8 per cent of the entire population...the numbers are worse in most of the other African countries 

20 months since the first case of the coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China, and the world has locked down and subsequently reopened progressively. There has been no better indication that normalcy is slowly resuming than this past week when the United States held their first in-person concerts celebrating the nation’s 245th Independence Day during the July 4th celebrations. 

Crowds of people, most of them maskless, were seen converging in more than 10 states where open-air concerts were held with music icons belting out hit after hit to crowds that swayed and sang along every word. This got me wondering when Kenya and Africa at large will unlock this level of freedom from the vicious virus

The US has every right to reopen. The global superpower was vaccinating more than 1.8 million people per day during its highest peak in mid-April this year. Even now, when vaccination has slowed down, at least 650,000 people are receiving jabs. But as impressive as that may sound, the U.S is just third in the world when it comes to the uptake of vaccination among its citizens. The country where the virus was first reported leads with 1.3 billion doses issued so far followed by India which has already vaccinated 347 million people, with 62 million people having been fully vaccinated. 

But Africa’s slow uptake cannot entirely be blamed on its governments. No African country is developing the vaccine on its own, with most of the continent’s countries relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India. But since the deadliest third wave of the virus hit India three months ago, production of the vaccine has been prioritized for its citizens first, leaving many African countries like Kenya dependent on dosage acquired during the first batch of a vaccine shipment.

Indeed, most of those who received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Kenya are yet to receive their second dose with the government left with no option but to ‘beg’ for help in getting more doses of the vaccine from any country willing to give out the jab. AstraZeneca which is more affordable and easier to store was scouted by most African governments as the most cost-effective way of managing the pandemic amidst a tight budget.

Africa has been served yet another blow as the European Union and many other western nations have blacklisted the covishield brand of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The ban on AstraZeneca poses a great challenge for Africans travelling overseas.

Developed nations have almost entirely vaccinated all of its population. You only need to have watched the ongoing EURO football games to witness stadia which have almost always been filled with fanatics cheering on their favorite national teams.

While the world’s two largest economies - China and the United States are now on the road to recovery, growth remains uncertain and still very shaky in several countries in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America, and the Caribbean.

According to United Nations Chief Economist Elliot Harris, many countries are not likely to see economic output return to the pre-pandemic levels witnessed until the year 2022 or 2023.