By Naomi Kitur

Vaccine equity acknowledges that no nation, state or individual’s life is more important or more deserving than another’s. The World Health organization (WHO) set a target for all countries to vaccinate 10% of their populations by the end of September. 56 countries effectively excluded from the global vaccine marketplace were not able to reach the target –and most of them in Africa.

‘’We had intended to vaccinate at least 20 million people by September this year, unfortunately, those who are fully vaccinated account for just 4% of that number,’’ said Ama Fenny, Senior Researcher, the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), Ghana speaking at the Third Southern Voice Research Conference.

She further said that Africa must build its local capacity to produce its own vaccines rather than beg for vaccines from western countries.

‘’Relying on western countries or external donors is not the way forward. The loans Ghana is taking from the World Bank to purchase vaccines are making the country fall into further debt,’’ Fenny said.

According to Jacky Kagume, Program Officer, Constitution Law and Economics Program, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the pandemic found Kenya with a sub-optimal healthcare system, and a really low investment in the sector. Kenya’s per capita allocation to health is 25 dollars, compared to about 4000 dollars in wealthy European countries.

‘’Market pressures played a significant part in Kenya’s inadequate response. As wealthy countries rushed in the queue,’’ said Leo Kemboi, Assistant Program Officer, Constitution Law and Economics Program IEA.

Kemboi further explained that the vaccination program is a public good, so global mass vaccination should be a global common, but the vaccine itself is a private good, so having a plan to ensure each and every person is reached is primordial.

The panelists at the virtual event gave many recommendations that will help foster vaccine equity ahead of the next pandemic; a solution other than reliance on external actors is needed.

One of the solutions recommended by the panelists to foster vaccine equity ahead of the next pandemic is to stop relying on external actors and increase investment as it will be more profitable in the long run.

Kagume emphasized the need for further transparency on the manufacturing side, in terms of who is receiving the vaccines, how many, and on what schedule.

She further recommended regulatory streamlining and harmonization of patent laws, explaining that various regulatory authorities around the world could look at how to find consistency in order to expedite the approval of vaccines.

Fenny urged the African continent to come together and move in the direction of local manufacturing which has been under discussion for months.

‘’Local manufacturing is a long-term goal, Africa needs to make it a priority today. We need global cooperation mechanisms that are long term. We also need to close the financing gap when it comes to distribution of vaccines and find cost effective measures and also think further on vaccine diplomacy,’’ she said.