COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa account for only 2% of vaccinations the world administers. Meanwhile, other countries are close to vaccinating the majority of their populations. This is a glaring example of the dangerous vaccine inequity burdening developing countries. The United Nations Security Council recently called for accelerated availability of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. A statement that all 15 members endorsed emphasized the need for “equitable access” to quality, affordable COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. With wealthy nations buying a disproportionately large amount of the world’s vaccine supply, it is imperative that developing African countries receive the proper aid and resources to implement proper vaccination programs across the continent. That is where China comes in.
China has thus far set the precedent in the global response towards increasing COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa, pledging to provide vaccines to over 40 African countries. China has described its actions as purely altruistic. To back this up, China has either been donating or selling the vaccines at favorable prices. Foreign Ministry official Wu Peng told reporters that “We believe that it is, of course, necessary to ensure that the Chinese people get vaccinated as soon as possible, but for other countries in need, we also try our best to provide vaccine help.” So far, the Chinese efforts to counter vaccine inequity have been quite successful. China has already committed half a billion doses of vaccines to African countries. By engaging in “vaccine diplomacy,” China has been able to expand its influence in Africa through tactful, yet charitable actions.
However, Wu makes the important distinction that “Aid alone cannot solve Africa’s vaccine issues. We must support local manufacturing of vaccines in Africa, even though this is difficult due to (low) levels of industrialization.” While difficult, initiating the local manufacturing of vaccines will have monumentally positive effects in curbing the disease. Starting in June 2021, Egypt will be able to start locally producing China’s Sinovac vaccine. Sinovac has not only provided Egypt with advanced technical guidance in producing the vaccine, but also the rights to manufacture and pack the vaccine domestically. China hopes to replicate this in other African countries.
Boasting claims of being able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses by the end of 2021, China will likely continue to lead the way in vaccinating a large portion of the world’s population. In light of China’s generous distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, many have criticized the U.S. for hoarding vaccines. In response to this, President Joe Biden has now pledged to donate an additional 20 million vaccine doses. Certainly, the continued proliferation of aid from wealthy nations will help to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. Developed nations cannot hoard vaccines or vaccine technology and expect the pandemic to end. The pandemic will not end until the current state of vaccine inequity disappears.
– Conor Green