Omicron variant highlights vaccine inequality in Africa

Nairobi, Nov 30 (EFE).- The new Omicron variant of coronavirus, first detected in South Africa, highlights vaccine inequality around the world and especially in Africa, transforming the continent into a “breeding ground” for new strains of Covid-19, the United Nations warned.

Only 6.6% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have received the full course of the vaccine against severe symptoms of Covid-19, according to Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) data.

In South Africa, where the first cases of Omicron were identified a week ago, 24% of the population is fully vaccinated.

The rate is far lower than those in Europe and North America, where an average of 60% of the population have received the full vaccination course.

So far, some 403 million doses have been distributed across Africa, of which 222 million have been administered, Africa CDC reported. In the United States, nearly 460 million doses have been inoculated.

Vaccination campaigns in Africa heavily rely on bilateral agreements, donations and the COVAX system, a programme supported by the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to ensure equitable and fair access to Covid-19 vaccines.

In September, high-income countries had a surplus of at least 1.2 billion vaccines and continued to contract pharmaceutical companies for more doses, hampering efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines, according to Gavi.

Vaccine equity is also being hampered by a blockade of intellectual property rights on Covid-19 medical tools by high-income countries including Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa called this vaccine “imperialism” in a call to end the blockade.

Since the first cases of the new variant were identified in South Africa, multiple countries have imposed travel bans from southern Africa, a move Ramaphosa condemned.

“Countries that rapidly detect and report variants should be commended, not penalized. It is not the time to panic and further exacerbate the shocking inequities we have seen throughout the pandemic. Decisions must be based on science, not politics,” CEO of Gavi, Seth Berkley, posted on Twitter.

Since detecting its first coronavirus infection in February 2020 in Egypt, Africa has accumulated some 8.6 million cases, with more than 222,000 deaths. EFE


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