In the worldwide race to vaccinate people against COVID-19, Africa is falling way behind. The continent of 1.3 billion people faces a severe shortage of vaccines just as a new wave of infections rises across Africa.
In South Africa, just 0.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, information collected by Johns Hopkins University shows. South Africa has the continent’s strongest economy and its biggest coronavirus caseload. Hundreds of thousands of the country's health workers -- many of whom come face-to-face with the virus every day -- are still waiting for their shots.
In Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country with more than 200 million people, only 0.1 percent of the people are fully protected. Kenya, with 50 million people, is even lower. Uganda has withdrawn vaccine injections from rural areas and brought them to cities because supplies are low.
Chad just started giving out its first vaccine shots this past weekend. And at least five other African nations have not yet given any vaccinations, reports the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that Africa has a shortfall of 700 million COVID-19 injections. It said last week that vaccine shipments to the continent had come to a “near halt.”
The WHO says the severe shortage comes at the same time that virus infections are rising across Africa.
“It is extremely concerning and at times frustrating,” said Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong. He is a virus expert from Cameroon who is trying to make sure that some of the world’s poorest nations get a fair share of vaccines. Nkengasong said such nations cannot possibly compete with other countries in the international marketplace for vaccines.
By comparison, the United States and Britain have fully vaccinated more than 40 percent of their populations. Countries in Europe are near or past 20 percent coverage. The U.S., France and Germany are even offering shots to young people, who are at very low risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Poorer countries had long warned of vaccine inequality, saying they feared rich nations would keep building up supplies of vaccine doses.
Nkengasong called on the leaders of wealthy nations meeting this week at the Group of Seven to share available vaccine supplies.
“I’d like to believe that the G7 countries, most of them having kept excess doses of vaccines, want to be on the right side of history,” he said. “We need to actually see these vaccines, not just ... promises and goodwill.”
Others have been even more outspoken about the need for action. South African human rights lawyer Fatima Hasan is an activist for equality in health care. She wrote in a series of text messages: “People are dying. Time is against us. This IS INSANE.”
British billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, who was born in Sudan, added his voice to the issue. Speaking to The Associated Press, he criticized the worldwide “competition” for vaccines. He added that the phrase “nobody is safe until everybody is safe” -- often repeated by leaders of wealthy nations -- is meaningless unless they share their excess vaccine.
“They say that while they are hoarding the vaccine," Ibrahim said. "Can you walk the talk? Stop just talking like parrots … do you really mean what you said?”
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden made its first move to ease the crisis last week. It announced it would share 25 million vaccine excess doses with in-need countries in South and Central America, Asia and Africa.
The U.S. is also expected to donate 500 million more vaccine doses around the world over the next year. That would be in addition to 80 million doses already promised.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
frustrating – adj. making someone feel frustrated: annoyed because things are not happening the way you want
dose – n. the amount of medication to be taken at one time
excess – adj. more of something than is normal or needed
insane – adj. shocking or outrageous
hoard – v. to collect and store a large supply of something