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Vaccine availability affecting poorer countries
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Vaccine availability affecting poorer countries

As new variants of the coronavirus continue to emerge, acquiring and administering vaccines to their citizens is a priority for most countries. Low and middle-income countries however are facing challenges in securing vaccines. 28-year-old, Judith Akoth, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Kenya argues that all countries should have equal access to vaccines if we are to stop the spread of the virus.

Picture this scenario, you go to the grocery store, one that you always buy from, but you are denied entry because you are not fully vaccinated from COVID-19. And it’s not because you refused to get vaccinated but the vaccines are not available! This may seem unthinkable now but this kind of scenario could happen if the challenges that low and middle-income countries face getting COVID-19 vaccines for their citizens are not urgently addressed. 

The politics of the COVID-19 Vaccine

While the world struggles to get back to normal and ensure that everyone is vaccinated, issues of supply and demand in low and middle-income countries are determining whether people are vaccinated or not. In Africa, many countries are keen to administer as many first doses as possible and at the same time, they are under pressure to urgently use their vaccines before the expiry date, creating a shortage of the second jab.

Most African countries have received their vaccines under the COVAX scheme, a programme aimed at supplying Africa with at least 600 million vaccine doses. The programme, whose doses are largely sourced from the Serum Institute of India, suffered a setback when India halted vaccine exports. This further worsened the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa. Currently, only 2% of the continent’s nearly 1.3 billion people have received one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and only 9.4 million Africans are fully vaccinated, risking the lives of many who are already vulnerable to the virus.

Amidst the crisis, the EU has introduced The EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate (EDCC) aimed to help Europeans travel easily between member states. The certificate is presented as a QR code that contains information about an individual’s vaccination status, test results or recovery status from COVID-19. This has raised concerns about whether the policy seeks to reward those who are vaccinated and punish those who are not. 

As if that is not enough, the green pass is not issued to anyone vaccinated with an AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India. 

Freedom of movement

While the COVID-19 green pass is considered a noble cause, it infringes upon freedom of movement across borders, which is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, in restricting the movement of those not issued the COVID-19 green pass this policy is having a disastrous economic effect, particularly for developing countries. It also affects the rights of migrants and refugees and deprives countries of valuable human resources. 

In addition, it has the potential to increase xenophobia, racial attacks and discrimination associated with the pandemic. 

Bridge the vaccine gap

While the WHO remains opposed to vaccine passes for international travel until COVID vaccines become “universally available’’ to everyone, for now, it will be in everyone’s best interest to not just identify but to successfully roll out measures to bridge the vaccine gap. Some such measures include; leveraging funding to enhance the impact of COVAX. This could fund not just manufacturing, but also the purchase and distribution of vaccines in low and middle earning countries.

High-income countries and those that are well supplied with vaccines should endeavour to donate/distribute excess vaccines to other countries especially in Africa. For example; a little over three weeks ago, Kenya received 358,700 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine donated by the Government of Denmark; and is also set to benefit from 1.67 million doses of Pfizer vaccine from the United States government.

Another strategy is to assist low and middle-income countries to manufacture their own vaccines. This could be attained through public-private partnerships to increase manufacturing capacity, enhance quality control, and provide the expertise needed for the timely manufacturing of safe and effective vaccines and include voluntary licensing arrangements.

Everyone deserves to be vaccinated

Since the development and widespread use of vaccines, countries have successfully eradicated deadly diseases like smallpox, and significantly reduced cases of polio worldwide proving the efficacy of vaccines. 

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 vaccines are effective in reducing the spread of the virus. They prevent us from getting seriously ill from the virus and protect us from contracting the virus from others. If we are to eradicate COVID-19 we must ensure that everyone is inoculated otherwise the virus will continue to spread and new variants will emerge, threatening lives and the global economic recovery. 

Already countries like the US are reporting that COVID-19 cases are starting to reduce as a result of increased vaccination and the steps that people have been taking to protect themselves from the virus. It’s time to bridge the vaccine gap to ensure everyone is safe from the virus.

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Photo Credits: Pixabay

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About Judith Akoth: I am a confident and articulate graduate who enjoys engagement in journalism clubs and associations.  Young yet mature; I am interested in developing my skills in conflict management in politics, ethnic, and religious-inspired conflicts. I believe our future generations have a right to live in a peaceful environment that allows for their holistic development. Currently, I am a blogger and a volunteer at community-based organizations.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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