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African Public Health Experts Call on U.N. to Speed Vaccine Delivery

As world leaders prepared to gather at the United Nations General Assembly, African public health experts called on Thursday for action to speed up delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to their continent, where according to the World Health Organization, only 3.6 percent of people have been fully inoculated against the disease so far.

Shortfalls in supplies from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing initiative, have left African countries with just half the doses they need to meet the global target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their populations by the end of 2021. Inequities in the distribution of vaccines remain stark: Africa is home to about 17 percent of the world’s people, but only 2 percent of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

“As the U.N. General Assembly meets next week, I urge African leaders to call on them to ensure equitable access to vaccines,” Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, chairwoman of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, said in an online news conference on Thursday. “Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa’s vaccines? Where are the vaccines for the low- and middle-income countries of the world?”

Wealthy countries globally have supplied only a fraction of the doses they promised to Covax. That shortfall is one of the main reasons Covax slashed its forecast last week for the number of doses it would have available this year. Worldwide, 80 percent of shots that have been administered have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Only 0.4 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.

Another reason, experts said, is that India, with the world’s biggest pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, has halted coronavirus vaccine exports while it tries to inoculate more of its own people.

“Export bans and vaccine hoarding still have a chokehold on the lifeline of vaccine supplies to Africa,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O.’s director for Africa, said at the news conference. “As long as wealthy countries lock Covax and the African Union out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals.”

Dr. Moeti repeated the W.H.O.’s demand that countries postpone administering booster shots to healthy people until the end of the year, so that more vaccine doses can be supplied to countries that are still struggling to administer initial doses. Yet a growing number of countries are proceeding with plans for booster programs.

Dr. Moeti added that African nations had significantly expanded their delivery capacity, administering 13 million doses last week, more than triple the figures from previous weeks. Even so, at their current pace the countries will not reach the 40 percent vaccination target until next March, she said.

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