'We are waiting to die': India's vaccine decision puts countries at risk

·News Reporter
·4-min read

As India continues to battle a daunting Covid crisis, nations across the globe are scrambling to fill the void left behind by its decision to indefinitely halt its vaccine handouts.

India, which has been recording about 4,000 coronavirus deaths a day in May, halted exports of its vaccines last month with officials saying it is highly unlikely it will send any overseas before October at the earliest.

United Nations children's agency UNICEF, which is coordinating the COVAX scheme which supplies vaccines to countries in dire need, says such a move will leave the world short of 190 million doses by the end of June.

Employees unload from a plane a shipment of Astra Zeneca vaccine doses against the coronavirus upon its arrival at the airport of the Libyan capital Tripoli, on May 19, 2021. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images)
Vaccine deliveries courtesey of India have been put on hold. Source: Getty

"We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

"Cases are exploding and health systems are struggling in countries near – like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives – and far, like Argentina and Brazil."

Sri Lanka Covid cases surge by 44 per cent

The shortage will leave poor countries even further behind, experts say, increasing vaccine inequity and complicating global efforts to tame a virus already spawning powerful variants.

Ms Fore's fears are materialising in Sri Lanka, with the country's daily Covid-19 cases shooting up by a concerning 44 per cent on Wednesday.

Paba Palihawadana, the Deputy Director General of Public Health Services predicts the state's surge in crisis is only going to continue and likely to last for several weeks.

Daily Covid-19 cases sparked by a worrying 44 per cent on Wednesday in Sri Lanka, one of several countries near India to experience a recent spike. Source: Worldometers
Daily Covid-19 cases sparked by a worrying 44 per cent on Wednesday in Sri Lanka, one of several countries near India to experience a recent spike. Source: Worldometers

Africa's desperate scramble for Covid vaccines

A lack of vaccines is a huge problem for Africa where only one per cent of the world's vaccines have been administered despite making up 14 per cent of the world's population.

Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention representative John Nkengasong said the decision to halt vaccines was "very problematic".

The continent had planned to vaccinate 30-35 per cent of its population by the end of the year, and 60 per cent within the next two to three years – an elusive goal if shortages continue.

Ethiopia, for example, planned to vaccinate 23 million of its 115 million population this year. So far, it has received 2.2 million doses from the 9 million requested from COVAX.

LUSAKA, April 14, 2021 -- A nurse prepares to administer the COVID-19 vaccine at the University Teaching Hospital UTH in Lusaka, Zambia, on April 14, 2021. Zambia on Wednesday launched the COVID-19 vaccination program against the pandemic. (Photo by Martin Mbangweta/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Martin Mbangweta via Getty Images)
Africa is falling behind the rest of the world in its vaccine rollout. Source: Getty

While Kenyan taxi driver John Omondi has received the first of his two doses he said the emergence of variants while he isn't fully protected was a huge concern.

"Without the vaccine, it's like we are waiting to die," he said.

Many countries are now turning to China or Russia for vaccine doses yet both countries have been accused of vaccine diplomacy. 

China's top respiratory disease expert Dr Zhong Nanshan warned last week every nation in the world is at risk from Covid-19 until global herd immunity is achieved, suggesting that might not happen until 2024.

"No country is safe until all countries are safe," he told a Science Council of Asia conference.

While many countries in Africa do not have readily available data, most of those that do have less than one per cent of its population vaccinated. Source: Our World In Data
While many countries in Africa do not have readily available data, most of those that do have less than one per cent of its population vaccinated. Source: Our World In Data

Urgent calls for rich nations to step up

UNICEF and many charities are calling on rich nations to donate their surplus doses to COVAX, rather than squander the stockpile on less-vulnerable children.

UNICEF's Ms Fore said G7 countries could donate about 153 million doses if they shared only 20 per ceent of their available supply over June, July and August.

This could be done while still meeting commitments to vaccinate their own populations, she said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is also urging vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer and Moderna to make shots available to the COVAX scheme earlier than planned, to ensure vulnerable populations such as health workers and elderly are protected.

"We need doses right now and I call on them (vaccine manufacturers) to bring forward deliveries as soon as possible," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.

"Only by working through COVAX can we quickly get vaccines to those health workers that have been on the frontlines of this pandemic for more than a year."

On Monday, US President Joe Biden announced he would send at least 20 million more Covid-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June, marking the first time the United States is sharing vaccines authorised for domestic use.

With Reuters

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