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Covid vaccines: Russia, China, India…Who is supplying Africa?

By Marie Toulemonde
Posted on Monday, 25 January 2021 20:24, updated on Wednesday, 27 January 2021 09:06

Covid vaccination campaigns have kicked off across the globe. But while many developed countries are busy inoculating their populations, the continent is grappling with growing bilateral agreements with foreign laboratories and mobilising its health professionals.

Western countries, perhaps hit harder by the virus, but above all richer, are creating a traffic jam by securing, like Canada, enough vaccines for up to three times their population.

READ MORE South Africa new coronavirus variant rages alongside vaccine finance debate
In Africa, deliveries of the vaccines promised by the COVAX aid programme for developing countries are still behind. Faced with the urgent need to contain a second wave that is much more virulent than the first, notably with the South African variant, the AU is releasing funds and some countries are negotiating directly with foreign laboratories.

Vaccine diplomacy

At the end of December, the NGO Oxfam estimated that 70 poor countries would only be able to vaccinate one in ten inhabitants in 2021. Under these circumstances, China and Russia have once again shown themselves to be particularly attentive to the continent’s needs. As early as June, China’s number one, Xi Jinping, expressed his “generosity” at the China-Africa summit by promising African countries that they would benefit from advantageous conditions during the massive distribution of Chinese vaccines.

READ MORE Let’s call it… China’s won the vaccine diplomacy contest

Unlike Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, China and Russia pride themselves on having developed vaccines that are accessible, can be stored in the refrigerator (making them easier to send and store in poorer regions) and, above all, are available.

The majority of the Maghreb countries, due to these numerous advantages, have already ordered several million doses. But concerns about the real effectiveness of Chinese vaccines are growing and Russian deliveries are slow. AstraZeneca’s vaccine, produced by the Indian laboratory Serum Institute of India, is also planning to supply 200 million doses as part of the Covax.

Clinical trials

To stem the pandemic, which has already claimed two million victims worldwide, billions of dollars have been invested in the development of vaccines against Covid-19.

READ MORE Mo Ibrahim laments sorry state of Covid-19 vaccines access for Africa

Hundreds of laboratories have been working since March in search of the miraculous cure. In less than a year, taking into consideration that the average vaccine development time is usually twelve years, twelve vaccines have been approved for public use and marketed in limited quantities to some 20 countries.

READ MORE Collaboration needed to ensure accessibility of Covid-19 vaccines

Some, such as China and Russia, have skipped the classic stages of clinical trials, starting with phase III (large-scale tests on humans) without even completing phase II. This is what has enabled Moscow to claim first place in the “vaccine race” with its Sputnik V, announced in August 2020.

Vaccination champions

While millions of Americans and Chinese have already been given their famous injection and Israel is fast-approaching herd immunity, no country on the African continent has, to date, begun a real vaccination campaign.

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