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First COVAX vaccines in Africa: Fair and equitable?

Are these single isolated cases of vaccines being received in Africa an outrageous fact considering that the majority of the countries still waiting to receive vaccines is African?

  1. The issue of equal vaccine distribution is the greatest moral test facing of the global community.
  2. A strongly unequal distribution increases contagion in the countries that receive them in lesser or no quantity, and this favors the emergence of new mutations.
  3. The impact on the consequent spreading of the infection could jeopardize the effect of the vaccination policies of the richest countries.

Almost three months after the first vaccinations in the UK, there was very good news for Africa that yesterday Sudan received its first delivery of 900,000 doses. This was coordinated by UNICEF in the framework of the COVAX program. Additional good news is the announcement that tomorrow Uganda will receive its first batch of 854,000 doses, which are also part of the 3.5 million it is expecting to receive in the framework of that program.

This good and long-awaited news does not allow the unequal supply of vaccines to put be swept under the rug, which is mainly a consequence of hoarding by the richest countries, the policy of the pharmaceutical firms, and of a weakness of countries which does not affect only the lowest-income nations. In her viral web intervention at the European Parliament, Ms. Manon Aubry extended the accusation of weakness to the European Union and to her president, Ms. Ursula van Leyden, and called the attention to the too many unknown clauses of the vaccine contracts.

There have been several requests to suspend the intellectual property rights (IPRs) of the vaccines, at least while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The competent international organization for this matter is the World Trade Organization (WTO) which in the meeting of its General Council and its Committees, scheduled for March 1 – 5 is supposed to make a decision on the proposal of India and South Africa that patents and other IPRs on drugs, diagnostic tests ,and vaccines against COVID-19 be suspended for the duration of the pandemic.

This proposal received support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose international president, Mr. Christos Cristou, has requested the support of the President of the European Union and of the Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Mario Draghi, in order to have the proposal approved. The identification of the addressees was not accidental. Indeed, the European countries constitute the large majority of the minority of the WTO member states opposing the measure.