For the past year, countries have put in a lot of effort to fight the coronavirus and rolled out massive vaccination campaigns. Indeed, vaccines are one of the most successful developments in modern medicine that we must believe in to protect our populations.
In a globalised and interdependent world, there is no secret: we must come together to save lives. Covax, a unique and ambitious global initiative, was created to procure and distribute vaccines to low and middle-income countries.
Since the first delivery of 600,000 AstraZeneca doses to Ghana in February, over 435 million Covid-19 vaccines were distributed to 144 Covax participants by the time I was writing this. This is the first global vaccine initiative of its kind, with multiple manufacturers contributing to its efforts.
Global vaccination equity remains a challenge. Africa still has the lowest vaccination rate, and we must improve it through Covax and working collaboratively with initiatives like Africa Vaccines Acquisition Trust (Avat) by Africa Union. To quote World Health Organisation’s guidance, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe.
That said, we must not overlook the important strides made over the past few weeks. It has required a high level of collaboration among many partners across the continent that has now fully vaccinated slightly below five percent of its population, up from one percent in July.
Given the export restrictions in India and despite the magnitude of this supply operation, Covax is currently the best scalable and viable and solution to fight the pandemic and it has given hope to millions of people that they will be able to return to a new normal. This hope is built on the knowledge that global, equitable access is the only way out.
Covax has had shortcomings making it far from perfect, and so is every other national, regional and global mechanism and response during this pandemic. The call here is to address wider global policy and governance challenges that already existed before the pandemic and which must be addressed if the world is to end this pandemic faster and prepare itself for the next pandemic.
This includes but is not limited to other problems such as vaccine nationalism, and which can be addressed by global treaties that result in timely increased contributions from G7 countries.
In addition, governments must address vaccine scepticism and healthcare infrastructures weaknesses that are also slowing down vaccination programmes.
We must trust the science behind the vaccine and the innovation behind the Covax initiative, which was inspired by mechanisms that enabled universal and equitable access to pneumococcal, measles and HPV vaccines.
Covax is built on the lessons learnt about equity as a driver of a more just and healthy future.
We recognise that the global picture of Covid-19 vaccine access and roll out is still unacceptable, and we must continue working together to stop the growing vaccine inequity and prevent the virus continuing to destroy lives – we must act now!
We welcome the calls for vaccine manufacturers to prioritise COVAX, along with firm commitments to provide transparency on pricing and timelines for availability, to allow countries to plan in advance.
We are confident that COVAX can make a greater impact in Africa and other low-income communities vulnerable to COVID-19. To support the initiative, it is imperative that governments recognise the importance of Covax and increase doses to African countries via this route, realising that it currently represents the most viable option for supply and distribution at scale built on its many years of experience and capacity distributing childhood vaccines.
However, on its own it will not eradicate the virus and we need continued joint collaborations and initiatives to tackle all the issues at hand, end stockpiles to share more doses, limit boosters, increase manufacturing through knowledge sharing as seen between AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India and invest in national and local health systems – do this today rather than tomorrow to vaccinate the whole world.
Dr Githinji Gitahi is AMREF Health Africa Group CEO