“Anyone who cares about this pandemic in the true sense should be frustrated,” John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview. “As of one week ago, we had vaccinated 1.1 percent of our population of Africa. If you square that with Africa’s population of 1.2 billion, you see we still have a very long way to go to get to 60 percent if vaccines continue this way.”
But other top officials have been furious about the lack of progress, resorting to publicly shaming countries that are vaccinating even those with low-risk profiles while many African countries are experiencing a long-avoided yet dreaded surge in severe cases and deaths.
Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwean business magnate and the African Union’s special envoy for vaccine procurement, lambasted European leaders for the delays in Covax’s distribution. “Not a single dose, not one vial has left a European factory for Africa,” Masiyiwa said at Thursday’s announcement. “They have vaccinated so many of their own people they can now watch football without masks. Our people have not been vaccinated.”
Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s top emergency expert, said the notion that supposed hesitancy among Africans to take the vaccine led to the shortage shows a current of racism ran beneath platitudes by world leaders about working together.
“The level of paternalism, the level of colonial mindset that says, ‘We can’t give you something because we’re afraid you won’t use it,’ ” he said. “I mean, seriously, in the middle of a pandemic?”
Some of the worst-hit countries, such as Namibia, which has the second-highest rate of infection in the world, are down to their last doses. Like most other African nations, Namibia staked its vaccination plan on Covax, but India’s export restrictions in the wake of its own surge have essentially suspended the initiative.