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Ghana’s Akufo-Addo sounds alarm on ‘vaccine nationalism’ at UNGA

By Dele Yusuf
Posted on Monday, 27 September 2021 10:15

Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo addresses the General Debate during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, at UN headquarters. (Justin Lane/Pool Photo via AP)

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo addressed world leaders at the ongoing United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with a clear call to action: Africa is “suffering the worst brunt of vaccine nationalism” and something must be done to carry the continent along in the race against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 76th UNGA session continues in the United States with world leaders speaking to the theme of this year’s meeting: ‘Building Resilience through hope to recover from Covid-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalise the United Nations’.

Akufo-Addo is no exception. In his remarks on Wednesday 22 September, he sounded the alarm on ‘vaccine nationalism’ in what is increasingly being seen as hundreds of steps away from the message of the UNGA theme. He further criticised the European Union’s non-recognition of coronavirus vaccines administered in Africa, which implies that those fully vaccinated on the continent are not considered immunised when they travel to its member states.

“One unfortunate development appears to be the recent measures on entry into some countries in Europe, which suggest that Covishield, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India, is not recognised by these countries. What is intriguing is the fact that this vaccine was donated to three African countries through the COVAX facility,” said Akufo-Addo, who leads the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). “The use of vaccines as a tool for immigration control will be a truly retrogressive step.”

The EU – and the UK – in focus

In July, the EU had introduced the ‘green pass’ system, which allows fully vaccinated people to travel between its member states and a few other countries. The vaccines approved include AstraZeneca doses from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) but not those manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is branded Covishield, and which many African countries are hoping to use to get out of the grip of the pandemic.

Although some EU member-states have started to recognise Covishield, the EU as a whole is yet to do so and is asking the SII to register its vaccine with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) despite the WHO having already granted its approval.

If you send us vaccines, and we use those vaccines, and you say you don’t recognise people that have been immunised with those vaccines, it sends a very challenging message [to] us…

However, the EU is not alone. The UK recently introduced a controversial vaccine policy, which takes effect on 4 October. It recognises full vaccination based on certain terms, which implies that thousands of African nationals who had been fully immunised against the virus will still be subjected to approval. The policy states that travellers to England will only qualify as having been fully vaccinated if they are either:

  • under an approved vaccination programme in the UK, Europe, USA or a UK vaccine programme overseas or
  • with a full course of the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines from a relevant public health body in Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan or the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The provisions, in the least bit, “do not speak to the spirit of true solidarity,” according to Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong.

He told reporters at the agency’s press briefing on Thursday that “if you send us vaccines, and we use those vaccines, and you say you don’t recognise people that have been immunised with those vaccines, it sends a very challenging message [to] us – that creates confusion within our population and that doesn’t speak to solidarity and cornerstone that we all believe are the ingredients for us to emerge from this pandemic together.”

Africa’s slow and not-steady vaccination rate

According to the Africa CDC, the continent of 1.3 billion people has only managed to administer 138 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, out of the 181 million received so far. This means that barely 4% of those on the continent have been fully immunised against the virus – a sharp contrast from the situation in developed countries like the US where 55% of the population have received their full dose of the vaccines, with a third dose being recommended.

Africa still hopes to reach 40% vaccination rate by the end of 2021 and 70% before the end of 2022. However, three things must happen for that to be achieved, according to Nkengasong:

  • Redistribute the vaccines from countries “holding them in excess”;
  • Place the developing countries “ahead of the queue”;
  • Begin to “feed those export banks” that are key to vaccine manufacturing.

“If they can release those vaccines, there is a chance we should be able to vaccinate and get to that target of 40% by the end of the year, but it is getting very tight,” he said at the Africa CDC briefing. “Unless those vaccines are truly available now, it will become very difficult to reach a target of 40% immunisation.”

Can a new world order unfold with Covid-19?

Akufo-Addo told the UN General Assembly that long before the pandemic, developing countries had not benefited fully from the existing structure of global economic co-operation. According to him, however, the pandemic comes with a golden opportunity to rethink global economic co-operation. In pursuit of such a new global order, he recommended five key points:

  1. The need to strengthen funding for existing global health organisations, which must include a greater, more predictable base for four multilateral funding [mechanisms] for the WHO and regional centres of disease control.
  2. Innovative financing that will address “structural challenges beyond responding to immediate fiscal needs” by paving the way for investments in health infrastructure, technology, the environment, and people that would bolster resilience and equitable recovery.
  3. A prudent and transparent channelling of 25% to 35% of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), which is $160bn-$230bn, from wealthier to vulnerable countries, $100bn of which should be dedicated to Africa.
  4. Re-positioning key multilateral organisations and international financial institutions such as the United Nations, the other Bretton Woods Institutions, and the G20 to reflect inclusiveness, support country investments in global public goods, and ensure fast-tracked financial support to build back better, and prepare for future pandemics.
  5. The need to maintain the “crucial balance” between economic, political and environmental imperatives in the fight against climate change.

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