The EU is giving €125mn to support Covid-19 vaccine distribution in Africa after the international Covax programme said a shortage of syringes and medical equipment was slowing efforts to vaccinate the world’s poorest people.
Countries across Africa have been plagued by vaccine shortages. Public health experts have warned that the uneven rollout of vaccines could lead to new coronavirus variants emerging in areas where fewer people have been vaccinated.
Covax, a World Health Organization-backed programme, last month said that it could not issue all the doses it had received because it lacked the infrastructure to deliver them, such as storage boxes.
The EU did not specify the recipients of the funds but said the money would be used to aid the rollout of jabs across Africa.
But the money falls far short of the $23bn the WHO believes is needed to help low- and middle-income countries end the emergency phase of the pandemic.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, announced the new money on a visit to Senegal on Wednesday. “It is so important to get the vaccines in the arms,” she said.
The bloc has been criticised for donating unwanted doses rather than cash for trucks, fridges, safety boxes and the other equipment needed to get them to the people in need.
Vaccination rates in many African countries are below 10 per cent, compared with more than 60 per cent for the world as a whole.
Covax said it needed $5.2bn this year, with $545mn required urgently for deliveries. It has received more than $200mn, with €300mn in loans from the European Investment Bank.
“Team Europe”, which includes the EIB, EU and its 27 member states, Norway and Iceland, has given or lent €3.5bn to Covax since the start of the year, with the US handing over $4bn.
Covax, which was set up in 2020, has delivered 1bn doses worldwide, with Europe having donated 350mn doses and pledging as many this year. The US has donated over 400mn.
Senior US officials told the Financial Times they had not ruled out further donations, but pointed out that they are the biggest donors to Covax.
“The United States has done more than the rest of the world combined. That doesn’t mean there doesn’t need to be more, but we are not in a position to announce that now,” Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to US president Joe Biden, told the FT.
The EU’s donation comes on the same day that the WHO called for $23bn to end the emergency phase of the pandemic. Some $16bn of the funds would go to the ACT Accelerator, which provides tests, treatments, vaccines and personal protective equipment to developing countries, while $6.8bn is needed to cover costs of delivery in the nations.
South Africa and Norway — which lead the ACT Accelerator — have written to 50 governments to ask them to contribute more.
Dr Peter Baker, of the Washington-based Center for Global Development, said governments found it easier to donate doses than cash. “Most countries over-ordered vaccines. So they can transfer contracts to poorer countries. It is zero cost but adds to their aid budget,” he said.
Only the US and Germany had contributed to delivery costs, he said, with the commission also providing them alongside 200m doses it donated.
The EU believes many countries making big pledges to donate doses have not in fact fulfilled them. China has donated around 111mn doses, India 14mn and Russia 1mn, according to EU officials.