Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Experts worry vaccine inequity could hurt Botswana’s Covid-19 fight

An online virtual panel held last month to share strategies on how governments must move forward past Covid-19 said Botswana must not bank on the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) program which was launched in April 2020, to accelerate development and manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines, and guarantee fair and equitable access for every country. Botswana is part of the global scheme which aims to deliver at least 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20% of the most vulnerable people in 91 countries, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last month, Dr Richard Hatchett who is the Head of the coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, one of the global nonprofits leading the COVAX program with the World Health Organisation (WHO) said just because they have demonstrated in Phase 3 clinical trials that they have safe and effective vaccines is not an assurance that they are about to start producing at mass scale. “The challenges of scaling up manufacturing are significant, and they are fraught,” he said.

The news comes just weeks after Reuters reported that the COVAX promoters said the global scheme is facing financial challenges, supply risks and complex contractual arrangements which could make it impossible to achieve its goals. An internal report allegedly in possession of Reuters says: “The risk of a failure to establish a successful COVAX Facility is very high.”

Although China supported a cluster of low and middle income countries led by South Africa and India to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) asking for a waiver of intellectual property rights on vaccines, the economic giant has not made any financial commitments to COVAX. Reports indicate that COVAX needs at least $5 billion in order to meet its target of vaccinating at least 20 per cent of people in low and middle income countries. The global scheme has already raised $2 billion.

Speaking recently on an online virtual panel, Health scientist and public health researcher, Taelo Morapedi said although regional organs such as the African Union (AU) have stressed the need for a fast and even-handed distribution of any successful Covid-19 vaccine, there are big problems that countries such as Botswana face in trying to access the vaccine.

“The outlook for most of the developing world is grim. Experts have so far predicted that adequate supply of the Covid-19 vaccine will only be achieved late 2022. Low income countries will likely acquire enough vaccine to fully immunize their citizens by 2024,” she told the panel which was held last week to share strategies on how governments must move forward past Covid-19.

The panel which comprised of public health professionals from different fields seemed to concur that the Covid-19 vaccine distribution has been captured by rich countries which have forayed into deals with global pharmaceutical companies.

The COVAX global scheme depends on cheaper vaccines which are yet to receive approval. The scheme is also preferred by most low and middle income countries because it anticipates to use shots which simply require conventional cold storage rather than Pfizer which requires ultra-cold distribution chains. At the moment the European Union (EU) and Britain are the main sponsors of the scheme.

Morapedi also warned that vaccine nationalism — when a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries — disadvantages countries such as Botswana, which have fewer resources and bargaining power.

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