Omicron Variant Awakens the World to Vaccine Inequity, Racist Policies, and the Global Neglect of Africa

By Fennella Bruce
Critics Omicron Variant Awakens the World to Vaccine Inequity, Racist Policies, and the Global Neglect of Africa
DEC 3, 2021 LISTEN

December 3, 2021 (Toronto, ON) - The Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity with the support of Toronto’s Black community health leaders is critical of the hasty travel restrictions imposed primarily on African countries. Canada has imposed a ban on the entry of foreign travelers who have been in one of ten African countries in the past 14 days. “The response itself did not surprise me given the absolute need to protect our population at all costs. What surprised me was the obvious lack of empathy for a region hard hit by COVID disruption without any hint of support to address the vaccine inequity that lies at the heart of surges in mutations,” observes Dr. Akwatu Khenti, Chair of The Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity. “There was little acknowledgement that South Africa’s transparent actions were both commendable and a standard for the world to follow.”

The recent policy may appear colour blind, but to Black observers across Canada and in affected countries, this policy is racially insensitive. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that a travel ban imposed on his country is both “unscientific” and “discriminatory.” The Omicron variant has appeared in more than 12 countries, is it fair to restrict primarily African travelers?

A post-colonial era of first and second world humanity is revealing itself during this global crisis. While high income countries aim for fully dosed populations - and now third dosed population strategies - African countries are struggling to reach the modest goal of 10% population targets, which is proving difficult to attain for the following reasons:

  • According to BBC reports, research on vaccine supplies in the G7 and the EU calculated that of more than one billion doses high income nations had pledged to donate, less than 15% had so far been delivered. Canada has delivered on 8% of its promised donations.
  • Africa has fully vaccinated 77 million people, just 6% of its population. In comparison, over 70% of high-income countries have already vaccinated more than 40% of their people. One in ten health professionals are fully vaccinated compared to 8 in 10 across high income countries.
  • Bilateral efforts have been stymied by pharmaceutical companies’ rational priority of maximizing profits (a case in point being Botswana which had a deal with Moderna that fell through simply because more revenues could be gained elsewhere)
  • Logistical challenges have stymied efforts even when vaccines were available there was poor uptake due to vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. There needs to be international support in terms of education about the benefit of vaccination and assistance in establishing efficient supply chains within the continent.
  • Both vaccine manufacturers and high-income countries have added to the cumulative mortality risks facing Africa however, by refusing to share vaccine technology during the height of this pandemic

High income country governments, especially the Canadian government, must prioritize and immediately accelerate vaccination donations to COVAX, if this pandemic is ever to end.

Adds Dr. Khenti: “There has been no response to South African efforts to jump start African vaccine production - if IP waivers and technology could only be shared. If this is what global health emergency pandemic planning looks like, COVID will be around for a long time to come...many, many African lives will be lost that could have been saved.”