President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned against ‘vaccine nationalism’, saying that it risks endangering the recovery of not only countries like South Africa, but all nations.
Vaccine nationalism is where wealthier countries effectively hoard Covid-19 vaccines for their own citizens, freezing out less prosperous countries such as South Africa.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s digital Davos conference on Tuesday (26 January), the president said this is quickly becoming a problem, and needs to be addressed collaboratively.
“We are deeply concerned about the problem of vaccine nationalism, which, unless addressed, will endanger the recovery of all countries,” he said. “Ending the pandemic worldwide will require greater collaboration on the rollout of vaccines and making sure that no country is left behind in this effort.”
This has been echoed by the World Health Organisation which has warned that vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic.
“New research outlines that global competition for vaccine doses could lead to prices spiking exponentially in comparison to a collaborative effort such as the COVAX Facility,” World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this year.
“It would also lead to a prolonged pandemic as only a small number of countries would get most of the supply. Vaccine nationalism only helps the virus,” he added.
And it’s not only the poorest who will suffer. As long as Covid-19 is not under control everywhere, the cost of the global pandemic will continue to be as high as $1.2 trillion per year, according to research non-profit, RAND Europe.
Continued disruption to the world economy, through battered supply chains and weaker demand will continue to weigh on all nations.
South Africa’s struggles
Locally, the president highlighted the issue of vaccine nationalism in his letter to the nation this week, where he defended the government’s processes in trying to secure Covid vaccine doses for its citizens.
Ramaphosa and his cabinet have faced criticism from various sectors for a delayed response to the vaccines, with reports pointing to officials only trying to secure doses in earnest after backlash in December 2020.
While South Africa has secured an initial delivery of 1.5 million doses, and a further 20 million doses down the line, critics say this is unlikely to be enough to meet government’s lofty goals of 67% inoculation by the end of the year.
Hitting back, Ramaphosa said that the government has been at the negotiation table for a long time, but talks with vaccine suppliers have been protracted and difficult due to global demand.
“Given the unprecedented global demand for vaccine doses, combined with the far greater buying power of wealthier countries, we had to engage in extensive and protracted negotiations with manufacturers to secure enough vaccines to reach South Africa’s adult population,” he said.
Suppliers have also been accused of price gouging, with reports pointing to South Africa paying double the price for vaccines that wealthier nations are getting on the cheap.
Can’t go back
Collaboration around vaccines and other issues will play a key part in helping the world move past the pandemic, Ramaphosa said.
He said that extreme poverty is expected to rise for the first time in over twenty years and the world is now at a crossroads.
“We are facing a common threat, and this means that we must act together.” However, he noted that the pandemic has exacerbated existing issues which need to be addressed through collaborative effort.
“The challenges we must confront were not created by the virus; they were created by us in more ways than one,” he said.
He added that the issues of poverty, the destruction of our environment, and conflict are all the results of our own actions and, too often, inaction.
“Our task is, therefore, not to return the world to where it was when the pandemic struck. But it is to forge a new path and design to a world that is just, peaceful, cohesive, resilient and sustainable.”