As governments across the world have begun mass Covid-19 vaccination programmes, President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged rich nations not to hoard vaccine doses and to release any excess which they may have to poorer countries.
In an address on Tuesday to the virtual World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogues, Ramaphosa called on rich countries to make the vaccines available to poor countries so because “we are not safe if some countries are vaccinating their people and other countries are not vaccinating.”
“We all must act together in combating coronavirus because it affects all of us equally and therefore our remedies, our actions to combat it must also be equal and overarching…and not be something that special or certain countries have on their own to the exclusion of others,” he said.
The president and his government have come under heavy criticism for their delay in ordering a suitable Covid-19 vaccine and their difficulty in negotiating a fair price. It has to do this while the country battles through the second wave of the pandemic and economic restrictions under lockdown level 3 take their toll.
Although the cross-border nature of the coronavirus requires a global response, the reaction to the health pandemic has so far been marred by vaccine nationalism.
Ramaphosa avoided mentioning any specific country but said rich countries have acquired large doses of vaccines from developers and manufacturers of these vaccines adding that, “some even went beyond and acquired up to four times what their population needs.”
“That was aimed at holding these vaccines and now this is being done to the exclusion of other countries in the world,” he said.
Through a task team set up by the African Union, Africa has secured a provisional 270 million doses of the vaccine which comes directly through vaccine manufacturers. This is in addition to the 600 million doses that are expected from the COVAX initiative, Ramaphosa said.
“We are deeply concerned about the problem of ‘vaccine nationalism’, which, unless addressed, will endanger the recovery of all countries. Ending the pandemic worldwide will require greater collaboration on the roll out of vaccines, ensuring that no country is left behind in this effort,” he said.
Advanced economies have a clear incentive to ensure equitable access to the vaccine, according to a new study published by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
Vaccine nationalism is set to cost the global economy $9.2 trillion in 2020.
Even in a more optimistic scenario, where developing countries are able to vaccinate half of their populations by the end of the year, total global costs would only go down to US$ 4.4 trillion — 53% of which would be borne by advanced economies, amounting to US$2.4 trillion in lost GDP, the study found.
Countries have poured millions of dollars into the developing, distribution and administration of vaccines from various manufacturers since they were first made available late last year. Roughly 68 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in 56 countries.
African countries have however lagged behind in the global campaign to vaccinate populations and not a single dose of the vaccine has yet been administered on the continent.
As of Monday, there have been 98 794 942 confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide, including 2 124 193 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation. Over 2.4 million of those cases have been reported in Africa, with South Africa accounting for the bulk at over 1.4 million cases and 41 117 deaths.
South Africa plans to inoculate two-thirds of the population by the end of 2021. In a statement earlier this month, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said an initial 1.5 million doses will come from India’s Serum Institute. South Africa has also struck deals with AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford for the vaccines.
In December, South Africa through the Solidarity Fund made the down payment of of $19.2 million (R283 million) to secure the country’s participation in the Covax vaccine programme. This represents 15% of the total cost of securing access to vaccines for 10% (roughly six million) of the population.
Although the government has made no announcement where the rest of the funds required for the vaccines will be found, National Treasury is reportedly considering hiking taxes to make up for the shortfall. Other options include widening the budget deficit and re-prioritising government spending.