It is almost two years now with the world grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic with no early ending in sight. The vaccination process is already at an advanced stage in developed nations, with a shadow cast over poor and underdeveloped countries. The uneven distribution of the vaccines has posed many moral and international policy questions that have an enormous impact on derailing the fight against the spread of the virus.
The Covax global facility led by Gavi, CEPI, UNICEF and WHO was put in place to act as insurance that every country has equitable access to vaccines as soon as they are available. By default, wealthier countries were more likely to secure vaccines more than less developed countries. The facility offered to avail doses for at least 20% of every countries’ population.
The very same gaps that the facility was set up to fight is the same gaps that poorer nations are grappling with. Up to now, Africa has only vaccinated 1.1% of its population. The United State has already vaccinated 45% of its population, the United Kingdom 47% and the European Union block 29%. These statistics already show a rift between these wealthier nations versus Africa in particular.
African countries at this point are grappling with a third wave with some countries such as Ghana and Namibia choked by the rise of infections and the lack of health capacity to hold back.
Recently African Union Special Envoy to the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, Strive Masiyiwa came out guns blazing raping the facility for failing to deliver the promised vaccines in time and allowing richer countries to hoard vaccines. He highlighted issues of injustice and the Covax facility being culpable of the unfairness. Despite the AU’s Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team’s efforts to pay upfront for the vaccines, manufacturers told them the capacity for the whole of 2021 had been sold already, according to Masiyiwa.
The lack of equitable distribution across the world has also raised an international policy question. Countries such as the United States have export restrictions on 60% of products required to produce vaccines. Restrictions have stalled other low-income countries to manufacture their vaccines and spices up the misfortune that fell on the African continent.
Vaccination for the world has been more of a political power play, with the international community rushing in to help and get ‘African benefits’, Zimbabwe included. African countries do not have a variety of options at this point. The failure of the Covax facility to distribute doses in time will force African countries to find alternative ways of accessing vaccines for their populations. Zimbabwe has fully vaccinated 467 733 as of 24 June representing around 3.2% of the total population. The Zimbabwean government has approved and been using Sinopharm, Sinovac, Sputnik V and Covaxin to inoculate its citizens.
The Chinese vaccines make up 90% of the administered and available doses in Zimbabwe. Despite its recognition as one of the progressing countries in Africa on vaccination, traits of low vaccine uptake are visible.
Research by the African Barometer interviewed 1200 adult Zimbabwean citizens yielding a +/-3% margin of error, highlighted that only 42% of the subjects trusted that vaccines are safe while 51% do not trust at all. These trends reflect how Zimbabweans are sharply divided when it comes to the vaccination itself. A variety of vaccines on offer would somehow give the country a boost in vaccine uptake. The government has embarked on several campaigns that aimed at giving people the confidence to get vaccinated.
However, the ties between Zimbabwe and China continue to grow since the Look East policy in 2003. Access to vaccines has been a bigger issue in Africa. Zimbabwe has unfettered access to buy and receive from China. Politics is still in play with smear campaigns and ‘vaccine diplomacy’ emerging between bigger powers with the capacity to produce. China seen as plugging the distribution gap that is being left by other vaccine producers in the world.