1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
HealthGlobal issues

Vaccine inequality is worsening

Frank Hofmann Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
Frank Hofmann
August 6, 2021

Despite lofty promises by rich nations to give away doses, COVID-19 vaccination in poorer countries is making little headway. That is allowing the virus to circulate unmitigated, says DW's Frank Hofmann.

 A cargo plane and a crate with the with the words COVAX
The COVAX initiative seeks to ensure poor nations aren't left behind in the race to vaccinate the world against COVID-19Image: Tiksa Negeri/REUTERS

For months, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been tirelessly reminding rich industrialized nations of their moral obligation to provide Coronavirus vaccines to the world's poorest countries, usually beginning his weekly WHO press conferences in Geneva with the admonition.

This week, he underscored his appeal by calling for a global moratorium on booster shots until at least October, questioning how the global North could begin administering booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at a time when healthcare workers in almost every country in Africa remain unvaccinated.

COVAX in danger of failing

Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija of the Africa Union's (AU) Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance for Covid (AVDA) has already warned the EU Commission and France that the COVAX vaccination initiative launched by the WHO in April 2020,  is in danger of failing.

"For the sake of humanity, however, it must not fail," she said. COVAX was designed to facilitate the delivery of vaccine doses, paid for by rich countries, to the poor. But of the 640 million doses scheduled to be delivered by early August, just 163 million have arrived. It's nothing short of a declaration of moral bankruptcy of the rich North, including Germany.

According to WHO estimates, roughly 11 billion vaccine doses will be needed to end the pandemic worldwide. The industrialized nations of the G7 have pledged just one billion, with the US and Germany leading the way.

While virus mutations are plaguing populations in Africa and countries in Latin America, the North is attempting to be benevolent. The Biden administration is spending $3.5 billion (€2.9 billion) to buy up 500 million vaccine doses from the US pharmaceutical multinational Pfizer for COVAX. The US government is to donate those advanced mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer's German partner BioNTech to the world's poorest nations.

But, the Biden administration has said it would cut in half its $4 billion commitment to the COVAX initiative to help pay for the purchase of the Pfizer shots. But that's money recipient countries need to get the vaccine to people in their villages, for example, to help pay for gasoline. The fact that Pfizer's CEO is raising the price of a single dose of the COVID shot is also evidence of complete moral failure!

A race against time

The German government of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel is also proving once again that it fails to grasp the most important principle of pandemic control: Speed.

For weeks, German aid organizations, especially those associated with the two major churches, have been asking German Health Minister Jens Spahn's ministry for leftover vaccine doses. The aid groups have been carrying out vaccination campaigns in Africa for decades, for instance against Ebola and measles, and they have the necessary infrastructure.

But, Chancellor Merkel's government has rejected bilateral aid through such established channels, in part, out a sense of misunderstood multilateralism. Also, according to a letter from the Federal Ministry of Health, because "donations to third countries regularly require the prior consent of the manufacturer."

That conveniently ignores the fact that BioNTech developed its COVID vaccine last year with half a billion euros from the federal budget. It's all about making money.

Not that any of this matters to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its fast-spreading variants — delta, lambda and all the other new mutants that may come along. It simply allows the virus to circulate unmitigated, potentially allowing deadly variants to develop before coming back to hit Europe or North America with a vengeance.

Biden: US to donate 500 million vaccine doses to poor countries

This article has been translated from German

Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Refugees wait after crossing the border and arriving at a registration centre of the Armenian foreign affairs ministry, near the border town of Kornidzor, on September 25
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage