In Africa, fewer than one in 20 people are fully vaccinated while in Europe, one in two are fully vaccinated
The inequity of Covid-19 vaccine distribution came into sharper focus on Thursday as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots stepped to the podium to speak at the United Nation's annual meeting of world leaders.
Already, the struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic was featured prominently in leaders’ speeches — many of them delivered remotely exactly because of the virus. Country after country acknowledged the wide disparity in accessing the vaccine, painting a picture so bleak that a solution has at times seemed impossibly out of reach.
“Some countries have vaccinated their populations, and are on the path to recovery. For others, the lack of vaccines and weak health systems pose a serious problem,” Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a prerecorded speech on Wednesday.
“In Africa, fewer than one in 20 people are fully vaccinated. In Europe, one in two are fully vaccinated. This inequity is clearly unfair.”
Countries that gave their signature annual speeches on Thursday include South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Burkina Faso and Libya.
Also, among them was Zimbabwe, where the economic ravages of the pandemic have forced some families to abandon the long-held tradition of taking care of their older people. And Uganda, where a surge in virus cases have made scarce hospital beds even more expensive, leading to concerns over alleged exploitation of patients by private hospitals.
On Wednesday, during a global vaccination summit convened virtually on the sidelines of the General Assembly, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would double its purchase of Pfizer’s Covid-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.
The move comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have growing increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.
The World Health Organization says only 15% of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The UN health agency has said it wants countries to fulfil their dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.
During an anti-racism event on Wednesday commemorating a landmark but contentious conference 20 years ago, President Felix Tshisekedi of Congo pointed to the fact that only about 1 in 1,000 people in his country have gotten at least one shot.
The disparity in vaccine availability around the world “clearly does not demonstrate equality between the countries and peoples of this world,” Tshisekedi said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likewise called out failures in sharing coronavirus vaccines during his speech on Wednesday night, his hopes in 2020 of “effective multilateralism and effective international solidarity” dashed a year later, “where one thing is to share objectives and quite another is to share vaccines.”