ISSN 2330-717X

The Great Game Of Vaccination Diplomacy Targets Africa – OpEd

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Russia is committed to helping eradicate the rapidly increasing coronavirus infections in Africa amounting to approximately 3.8 million with its latest developed Sputnik V vaccine. Such a step will enable Russia to reassert its geopolitical influence that involves a keen competition with other foreign players on the continent.

An official media release in mid-February said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team — set up by the African Union to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa can attain a target immunization of 60% — has received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation.

This includes a financing package for any member states wishing to secure this vaccine. The Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team also informed that it had secured 270 million doses each from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), explained: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

Several countries around the world have ordered the Sputnik V, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). This is a sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors.

The offer of 300 million doses to Africa, to be delivered in May, seems limited by Russia’s own production capability. Quoting Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, TASS Information News Agency in February 2021 reported that Russia plans to produce 88 million double doses of coronavirus vaccines in the first six months of the year, not including the newly registered CoviVac vaccine.

“We expect that 88 million double doses of coronavirus vaccines will be produced by the end of the first half of the year, not including CoviVac,” she said, adding that 83 million double doses of the Sputnik V vaccine as well as 5.4 million double doses of EpiVacCorona would be manufactured.

According to Golikova, 30.5 million double doses of the vaccines will be produced this first quarter of the year. She also said that 11.1 million double doses of the vaccines have been manufactured in the country so far and 7.9 million doses have been released for civil distribution.

In his wide-ranging annual media conference held on December 17, 2020 Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that as the pandemic spreads, millions of coronavirus vaccine doses will have been produced in Russia at the beginning of the year. The primary objective is to vaccinate the Russian population. “Production of this vaccine requires relevant plants, enterprises, and hardware — all that will be scaled up. I expect all of these plans to be fulfilled and production of millions of vaccine doses at the beginning of the year,” he said.

Technological capabilities

With regard to cooperation with other countries, it will boost the technological capabilities of enterprises to produce the vaccine. Foreign countries will invest their own money into expanding their production capacities and purchasing the corresponding equipment.

“As for cooperation with foreign countries: nothing is stopping us from manufacturing vaccine components at facilities in other countries precisely because we need time to enhance technological capacities of our vaccine manufacturing enterprises. This does not hinder vaccination in the Russian Federation,” he said.

Sputnik V is registered in Russia, Belarus, Argentina, Bolivia, Serbia, Algeria, Palestine, Venezuela, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Hungary, UAE, Iran, Republic of Guinea, Tunisia, Armenia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Republika Srpska (an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina), Lebanon, Myanmar, Pakistan, Mongolia, Bahrain, Montenegro, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Gabon, Ghana and San Marino.

On August 11, 2020, Russia became the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine named Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

According to the latest media reports, Moscow is not the only foreign player making inroads into Africa. French President Emmanuel Macron urged Europe and the United States to send, without much delay, enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa to inoculate the continent’s healthcare workers or risk losing influence to Russia and China.

According to Macron, Europe and the United States could allocate up to 5% of their current vaccine supplies to developing countries in an effort to avoid an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference in February after U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron pleaded for sending 13 million doses to Africa as a first step — enough to inoculate all its health workers, failure would mean Africa coming under justified pressure to buy doses from the Chinese and the Russians.

Ahead of the G7 meeting on February 19, Macron described the slow speed of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa as “intolerable” and blaming inequality between poor and rich countries for access to vaccines. “We must respond to this outrageous inequality,” Macron said, during a videoconference with Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and Comoros President Azali Assoumani.

The goal of the meeting was to identify “priority areas” and help bring African voices to talks planned between leaders of the G7 countries. “We are at a moment of truth if we want to act more effectively,” said Macron, adding that it was in the interest of the whole world to vaccinate people globally, otherwise the virus would continue to circulate, and different variants would emerge.

Increasing production capacities in Africa

He said production capacities in Africa needed to be increased, while transparency on vaccine pricing was needed, pointing to how some Western countries could buy vaccines more cheaply than African countries.

France is indeed part of the Covax facility, which acts as a global collective bargaining initiative to secure vaccine doses for countries who signed up, including those which are self-financing their purchases, as well as assistance from donors for poorer countries. The first vaccines purchased through Covax are destined to reach the African continent in February, with some 88.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines distributed to 47 countries by the first half of 2021.

Through bilateral relations, a number of African countries have had vaccine donations from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China has already provided Covid-19 vaccine, as donations, to Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe and will further help 19 African countries as part of its commitment to making vaccines global public goods, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said on February 22 that China would also support enterprises to export Covid-19 vaccines to African nations that urgently need, recognize, and have authorized the emergency use of Chinese vaccines.

The aid is a clear manifestation of the China-Africa traditional friendship, he said, adding that China will continue to provide support and assistance within its capacity and in accordance with the needs of Africa. China welcomes and supports France and other European and American nations in providing vaccines to help Africa fight the pandemic.

African countries are ready to help each other fight the pandemic. Senegal is the first African country to donate vaccines to its neighbors as Dakar announced that it would give 10,000 doses each of its Chinese coronavirus vaccines to The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. President Macky Sall confirmed the donation as a sign of solidarity.

Senegal received a vaccine consignment of 200,000 from China’s Sinopharm. The government said it paid a little over 2 billion CFA francs (US$3.74 million) for the doses to begin its campaign. Senegal says it is also in negotiations with Russia to purchase its Sputnik V vaccine. It aims to innoculate about 90% of a targeted 3.5 million people, including health workers and high-risk individuals between the ages of 19 and 60, by the end of 2021. The country’s population is about 16 million.

Senegal is eligible for the COVAX program, a WHO-backed program expected to deliver vaccines to those who need them most. During the virtual meeting of G7 leaders, the European Union announced it had donated a further 500 million euros to the COVAX program. According to the Senegalese Health Ministry, it expects 1.3 million doses by early March. It comes at no cost to the West African nation.

According to official reports, India is also joining the global players in Africa. India will make its first shipment of a locally made Covid-19 to the WHO-backed equitable vaccine distribution network COVAX. “In fulfilling our commitment to help the world with Covid-19 vaccines, the supply of Made-in-India vaccine has commenced for Africa under COVAX facility,” Anurag Srivastava, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, said on Twitter.

The World Health Organization this February paved the way for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine’s global rollout by approving emergency use of the product produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, and SK Bioscience of South Korea. SII will also start producing the Novavax vaccine mainly for poor and middle-income countries.

India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, has shipped over 17 million vaccine doses to more than two dozen countries — including around 6 million as gifts to partners such as Bangladesh and Nepal. For its own campaign, New Delhi has so far only ordered 31 million doses.

The cost of vaccinating 60% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people would be between US$10 billion and US$15 billion, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control. The continent has secured 36% of its vaccine needs, with 25% of the doses to come from the Covax initiative and 11% from a separate African Union program, Africa’s CDC said.

Africa really needs the developed world, as it has no vaccine of its own. It’s far behind the rest of the world in terms of acquisition and inoculations, with richer nations having secured the scarce shots early. Africa, however, remains resolute at ensuring the welfare of the entire population, while the African Union, regional blocs and individual governments make frantic efforts to acquire adequate vaccines through bilateral and multilateral agencies.

WHO has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic since March 11, 2020. South Africa accounts for the biggest number of Africa’s coronavirus cases. Egypt and Morocco in the north have increasing rates of infection, and in countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya in the Sub-Saharan Africa. The overall number of Covid-19 cases in Africa currently stands more than 3.8 million late February, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa. 

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Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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