EDITORIAL COMMENT: Vaccine gift matters to Africa, world

14 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Vaccine gift matters to Africa, world

The Herald

The incredibly generous gift of another 10 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from China, roughly Zimbabwe’s share of the one billion doses China is committed to giving Africa, shows that the Chinese are prepared to convert talk into action when it comes to building up Africa.

In just about every review of the global effects of Covid-19, the particular problems of Africa, and the potential dangers these present to the rest of the world, are highlighted.

While Africa has the second highest population of any continent, after Asia, the average vaccination rate is very low with only a modest number of countries, including Zimbabwe, able to cope with a continuous major vaccination programme.

The dangers, highlighted by most experts, is not just that Africans could become the largest group of casualties in the pandemic, but the large pool of unvaccinated people is a likely breeding ground for every more major mutation.

Just about every expert reckons that Africa needs serious support as a continent, but there were frequent complaints that some countries outside Africa were hoarding doses they could never use.

Some help was being given, but the Chinese gift of a billion doses is easily the largest, enough to vaccinate over a third of the total African population with both doses, or somewhere in the region of half the adult population.

The Chinese vaccines have the additional virtue in an African context of not needing ultra low temperatures for storage and transport.

The cold chains almost all countries have been building up since the 1980s for the vaccines used to fight and control the major childhood diseases are fine for the inert vaccines that China is supplying, so just about every country can be moving forward as the vaccines arrive. All this is very important. Everyone well versed in public health is aware when a very infectious new disease breaks out that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

It is likely that new vaccines will be developed to fight Covid-19. The World Health Organisation is keen in seeing research into vaccines that can block transmission, rather than mostly ameliorate the severity of an infection. In fact, present vaccines block about 70 percent of potential infection, so when coupled with other public health measures such as masks and social distancing can cut transmission to very low levels.

An even bigger gain, especially when looking at the Delta and Omicron variants with their far higher transmission rates, is that hardly any vaccinated people develop fatal symptoms.

They are not unknown, but it appears from all research that there is a great deal of protection given by the present vaccines, even for a highly mutated variant like Omicron.

But the vaccines available everywhere are the present set. It was, in many ways, one of the most remarkable episodes in pharmacological history for a range of effective and safe vaccines to be ready just one year after the first sign of the new disease, and then that the manufacturing capacity was pushed high enough to produce enough vaccines for the entire planet, even if distribution can be highly uneven.

Although China has the largest population of any country, and so needed the largest number of doses, it has from the very beginning been willing to divert some of its production for export and gifts. Zimbabwe was among the beneficiaries, needing vaccines to launch a programme when these were in very short supply around the world.

China started the national programme with gifts, and then showed it was willing to divert more supplies in commercial sales, but at normal prices without any attempt to profiteer from scarcity.

Now that its own population is largely protected, there is obviously available capacity to boost exports, and very imaginatively China has decided to be really generous in the donations.

Instead of closing factories or stockpiling vaccines it will never use, it decided to keep the production lines open and make sure a lot more people were protected. People will not forget.

With this huge Chinese donation to Africa there is a need for others to join in and ensure that even the poorest country can make swift progress towards vaccination rates that at least cut back the danger of a large pool of mutating virus on the continent, and save a lot of African lives.

Others could also emulate China and move support for Africa up from token levels to those that really count.

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