South Africa warns of ‘vaccine apartheid’ if rich countries hog shots

Johannesburg: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday that if wealthy nations hogged COVID-19 shots while millions in poor countries died waiting for them it would amount to “vaccine apartheid”.

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South Africa and India have been pushing for a waiver on some intellectual property (IP) rights for vaccines and medicines at the World Trade Organization.

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US President Joe Biden backed the proposal last week, though it may still take months to reach a deal.

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Ramaphosa called on South Africans to support the waiver in a weekly newsletter, saying vaccines should be “a global public good”.

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“It is about affirming our commitment to the advancement of equality and human rights, not just in our own country but around the world,” he wrote.

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“A situation in which the populations of advanced, rich countries are safely inoculated while millions in poorer countries die in the queue would be tantamount to vaccine apartheid.” Sub-Saharan Africa has administered the fewest vaccines relative to its population of any region, with roughly 8 doses per 1,000 people versus 150 doses per 1,000 people globally, according to the World Health Organization.

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Ramaphosa recalled that 20 years ago South Africa faced off against “big pharma” over efforts to import and manufacture affordable generic antiretroviral medicines to treat people with HIV/AIDS.

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“Years later, the world is in the grip of another deadly pandemic in the form of COVID-19. And once again, South Africa is waging a struggle that puts global solidarity to the test,” he said.

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Ramaphosa said South Africa was one of only five countries on the African continent able to manufacture vaccines and that there was a need for new capacity to be built.

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South Africa has ordered enough COVID-19 vaccines for 46 million of its 60 million people via bilateral deals with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer. The J&J shots will be made locally by Aspen Pharmacare.

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