In December 2020, G7 countries began to roll out the first Covid-19 vaccines. It was a monumental feat to produce lifesaving vaccines in record time, but it would be at least another three months before the first dose was administered in Africa, Ghana to be exact. By this time at least 50,000 people had died from Covid across Africa.
In mid-June 2021 under the United Kingdom presidency, the G7 committed to vaccinating the world by the end of 2022 to end the pandemic. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is undercooked: Africa has today only vaccinated 18 per cent of its population.
If Europe had vaccinated its population at the same rate as Africa less than one in four of their population would be fully vaccinated today, and there would rightly be outrage.
Many African governments have been hamstrung by the actions of G7 countries, such as vaccine supply inequalities, vaccine over-purchase and hoarding, export restrictions for essential materials and supplies, unnecessary travel bans and aid cuts leaving African populations vulnerable to recurrent Covid waves.
On the other hand, the UK is reaping the benefits of South Africa’ swift genomic sequencing operation. Not only was this capacity instrumental in alerting the world to the Omicron variant but it continues to be a bellwether and provide invaluable insight into the evolution of the Omicron subvariants and their likely impact on public health.
Despite their collective economic and political might, G7 countries are failing to lead the world out of this pandemic.
Vaccine Supply And Delivery
G7 countries pledged to donate a total of 1 billion doses globally, yet less than 1 third of this pledge has been delivered to African countries so far. The UK has only delivered 39 per cent of the 100 million doses it had pledged to deliver globally by the end of this month.
In early 2021 as they ramped up their own vaccine programmes, G7 countries ignored the pleas of African governments. This played a role in undermining the vaccine in African countries as people gave up hope of receiving it, the momentum was lost, and demand decreased.
If African countries had received vaccines at the same time and at the same reliable pace and quantity as G7 countries, they would have seized upon the continental and global momentum for vaccination in early 2021 and reached more of their populations. Studies confirm that early access is paramount to saving more lives.
However, supply is not the only issue. Even when donations started in larger amounts, we witnessed the UK and other European countries offloading vaccines with little regard for countries’ capacity to rollout these vaccines. Providing vaccines with little notice and a short shelf life exponentially magnified the logistical burden on already fragile health systems.
Massive cuts in international aid funding have left African countries lacking support they could traditionally rely upon to deliver the vaccines to their populations. The UK has cut its aid budget by £4.6 billion and the gap between rhetoric and action is now greater than ever.
UNICEF is the key vaccine rollout player in the continent, but due to the UK aid cuts UNICEF funding was cut by 60 per cent, which has directly or indirectly undermined vaccination efforts. Another example is the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) which received £2.5 million from the UK government in 2021, compared to £15 million in 2020.
These cuts not only impact the response to Covid but limit countries’ ability to focus resources on concurrent health crises. Already, countries have had to shift resources from essential health services and routine immunisation to manage their Covid response.
African countries have been put at a disadvantage in their ability to produce vaccines and reduce reliance on other countries. Despite G7 countries verbally supporting Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing in low-income countries and some compromises in progress, the G7 failed to produce any resolutions for a temporary waiver of relevant Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to enable these countries to manufacture not only vaccines but Covid-19 tests and treatments. Making this a reality would have been a credible and good-faith first step towards enabling health security in Africa.
Lead By Example
G7 countries are losing credibility on turning words into action. They must re-establish their role as reliable global leaders by delivering on promises not just with vaccine supply but administering these doses and building systems that will endure and prevent future pandemics.
We urge that the G7 countries reflect on how they have failed to action their promise of helping the poorest countries in the world tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has taught us that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Vaccinating African countries will collectively move us forward into the next phase of the pandemic and is in everyone's best interests.