Following a two-day meeting with partners from COVAX and Africa on the vaccination situation on the continent, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director-general, said the COVID-19 pandemic will not end unless and until there is genuine global cooperation on vaccine supplies and access.
COVAX is a program affiliated with the WHO that aims to provide equal access across the world to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Speaking on Tuesday at a joint press conference held with experts from the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Ghebreyesus said they hope to provide Africa with about 30 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines the continent needs by February. This is a downward revision of the 60 percent vaccination coverage goal that African leaders had hoped to reach by December.
"More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2 percent of those have been administered in Africa," Ghebreyesus said.
"This not only hurts the people of Africa, it hurts all of us. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing and the longer the social and economic disruption will continue."
While pointing out vaccine inequity is a solvable problem, Ghebreyesus called on countries that have already achieved high coverage levels to swap their near-term vaccine deliveries with COVAX and AVAT for distribution.
"They should also fulfil their dose-sharing pledges immediately and facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing," Ghebreyesus said.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, sought to dismiss the misconception that African countries do not have the capacity to absorb the vaccines. She pointed out that the continuous challenge is that global supplies are not being shared in ways that will get the world out of this pandemic.
"Hundreds of WHO staff are on the ground, ready to support countries to expand vaccination sites and to manage the complexities of small deliveries of a variety of vaccines," Moeti said.
"What's more, African countries have done this before by successfully implementing massive vaccination campaigns against polio, yellow fever and cholera," she added.
While admitting that Africa will not be able to reach the 60 percent target by the end of the year, John Nkengasong, Africa-CDC director, called for global partnership, cooperation and solidarity in vaccine distribution.