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Africa's vaccine inequity

21 July, 2021

According to data collected by Bloomberg, more than 3.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across 180 countries as of 15 July 2021. While enough doses have now been administered to fully vaccinate 23% of the global population, disparities in access are stark. On average, those countries and regions with the highest incomes are getting vaccinated more than 30 times faster than those with the lowest. 

The 2021 Ibrahim Forum Report, assessing the impact of COVID-19 in Africa one year on, shed light on Africa’s small share of global vaccine doses (1.7%) distributed as of 3 May 2021. Now, against a backdrop of rising cases, Africa’s share of global shots administered is even smaller. As of 15 July 2021, African countries account for just 1.6% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses administered globally, despite accounting for nearly 18% of the world’s population.

Research spotlight 2: Africa and the rest of the world comparison

Africa remains the least vaccinated region in the world, with only 1.1% of the population fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the third wave is in full swing on the African continent: infections are now rising by 25% every week and the first week of July was Africa’s worst since the beginning of the pandemic. In this context, the slow rollout of vaccination programmes in African countries suggest that it may be too late for vaccines to stop the ‘India-scenario’.

As stressed by Dr Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (AfCDC) during the 2021 Ibrahim Governance Weekend, if this situation remains unchanged, the risk of endemicity of the COVID-19 virus in Africa is high. Pascal Lamy, President of the Paris Peace Forum, warned that Africa is on the verge of a “vaccine apartheid”. 

No herd immunity for Africa until at least 2023 threatens the global fight against COVID-19

The World Health Oganization (WHO) recommends that at least 60% of a country’s population should be fully immunised to break the chain of transmission. According to Bloomberg, as of 15 July 2021, the five leading countries globally are Maldives (75.5%), United Arab Emirates (75.0%), Seychelles (72.7%), Malta (72.1%) and Bahrain (71.3%).

In Africa, after Seychelles, the four countries with the highest population coverage of their COVID-19 vaccine doses administered are Mauritius (35.6%), Morocco (28.6%), Cabo Verde (11.4%) and Equatorial Guinea (10.3%).

Of the 12 countries globally where vaccine doses administered cover less than 0.5% of the population, seven are African: Cameroon (0.3%), Benin (0.2%), South Sudan (0.2%), Algeria (0.1%), Burkina Faso (0.1%), Chad (0.1%) and DR Congo (<0.1). 

Furthermore, three African countries have not even kicked off their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns yet: Burundi, Eritrea and Tanzania.

World countries: Population coverage of COVID-19 vaccination administration

Unpacking COVID-19 vaccine rollout in absolute numbers

Globally, the five countries that have administered the most COVID-19 vaccine doses in absolute terms are China (1,402.0 million doses, enough to cover 50.1% of its population), India (391.1 million doses, enough to cover 14.3% of its population), USA (335.5 million doses, enough to cover 52.4% of its population), Brazil (117.3 million doses, enough to cover 28.7% of its population) and Germany (84.1 million doses, enough to cover 50.6% of its population).

In Africa, the five countries that have administered the most shots in absolute terms are Morocco (20.3 million doses, enough to cover 28.6% of its population), Egypt (4.9 million doses, enough to cover 2.4% of its population), South Africa (4.7 million doses, enough to cover 4.8% of its population), Nigeria (3.9 million doses, enough to cover 1.0% of its population) and Tunisia (2.2. million doses, enough to cover 9.4% of its population).

At a global level, Morocco is the best performing African country ranking 23rd (out of 200) in terms of absolute number of vaccine doses administered.

At the other end of the spectrum, the five African countries with the fewest vaccine doses administered in absolute terms are São Tomé and Príncipe (37,716 doses, enough to cover 8.9% of its population), Burkina Faso (33,960 doses, enough to cover 0.1% of its population), Djibouti (26,796 doses, enough to cover 1.2% of its population), Guinea-Bissau (25,012 doses, enough to cover 0.7% of its population) and Chad (18,484 doses, enough to cover 0.1% of its population).

African countries: COVID-19 vaccination

Research by The Economist Intelligence Unit shows that there may still be a long way to go for African countries to achieve the so-called ‘herd immunity’ and substantially slow the spread of the disease. 

While richer countries are expected to have completed the vaccination of their entire populations by March 2022, the majority of African countries will not achieve widespread vaccination coverage until some point in 2023. In the continent’s poorest countries, mass immunisation may not even take place until 2024. This presents a real risk for the global fight against COVID-19, as vaccines for Africa is a matter of global security and none of us will be safe until everyone is safe.

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