African Leaders Condemn COVID Vaccine Disparity in United Nations Speeches

Several African leaders condemned disparities in COVID-19 vaccine access while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, voicing calls to increase cooperation and access in the international community, the Associated Press reported.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a speech that vaccines are "the greatest defense" against the dangers of the pandemic and decried the vaccine inequity between the world's wealthier and poorer countries.

"It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82 percent of the world's vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1 percent has gone to low-income countries," he said.

Ramaphosa called on the U.N. to back a proposal that intellectual property rights for vaccines instituted by the World Health Organization be rescinded temporarily so low- and middle-income countries can manufacture more of the shots. João Lourenço, president of Angola, called the imbalance in vaccine access "shocking" during his address, AP reported.

"These disparities allow for third doses to be given, in some cases, while, in other cases, as in Africa, the vast majority of the population has not even received the first dose," Lourenço said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

African Leader Decry Vaccine Inequity
Some leaders of African countries decried COVID-19 vaccine inequity at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. Above, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks via video link during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York City on September 23, 2021. Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP

The U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Israel are among the countries that have begun administering boosters or announced plans to do so.

Benido Impouma, a program director with the World Health Organization's Africa program, noted during a weekly video news conference that the surge in new COVID-19 cases is starting to ease in Africa "but with 108,000 new cases, more than 3,000 lives lost in the past week and 16 countries still in resurgence, this fight is far from over."

"Fresh increases in cases should be expected in the coming months," Impouma said. "Without widespread vaccination and other public and social measures, the continent's fourth wave is likely to be the worst, the most brutal yet."

On Wednesday, during a global vaccination summit convened virtually on the sidelines of the General Assembly, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would double its purchase of Pfizer's COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the global population within the next year.

The move comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have growing increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.

The World Health Organization says only 15 percent of promised donations of vaccines—from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them—have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges "immediately" and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

Biden, earlier this year, broke with European allies to embrace waivers to intellectual property rights for the vaccines, but there was no movement Wednesday toward the necessary global consensus on the issue required under World Trade Organization rules.

While some nongovernmental organizations have called those waivers vital to boosting global production of the shots, U.S. officials concede it is not the most constricting factor in the inequitable vaccine distribution—and some privately doubt the waivers for the highly complex shots would lead to enhanced production.

Vaccine Drive in Kenya
Several addresses at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday highlighted the growing issue of vaccine inequity between wealthier and poorer countries. Above, a health official prepares a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine prior to administering it during a mass vaccination drive in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 17, 2021. Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images