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Vaccine equity is the best way to get out of the current pandemic phase of the coronavirus epidemic, the world’s top public health experts said in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum virtual Davos Agenda conference on Tuesday.

Talking about the vaccination gap, World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergencies director Mike Ryan said that more than half of the world’s population had received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only 7% of the population has been fully vaccinated in Africa.

“The problem is we are leaving huge swathes of the world behind.... But vaccines are absolutely central. There is no way out of the pandemic right now without vaccines as the central strategic pillar.”

The discovery of the Omicron variant  has heightened claims that low inoculation rates can encourage viral mutations, which can then spread to countries where rates are much higher.

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control, said it was “unacceptable” that Africa was lagging so far behind other countries in vaccination and called it a “collapse of global co-operation and solidarity”.

“The only way to prevent other variants challenging the global efforts and advances we have seen is to vaccinate on scale, including Africa,” said Nkengasong.

Seth F Berkley, CEO of vaccine alliance Gavi, said that though global vaccine supply through Covax faced initial hurdles like export bans, vaccine nationalism and companies’ not meeting their dose requirements, things are slowly coming back on track.

The WHO said on Tuesday more than 1-billion shots had been delivered so far by Covax.

“We expect the next billion (doses) to take between four to five months versus a year ... the challenge is to make sure every country is ready to receive them,” said Berkley.

Nkengasong said African countries were not facing vaccine hesitancy but looking at logistics issues that need to be addressed.

“Greater co-operation is the route to ending this pandemic, whether we end it in 2022 or 2023.”

Last week, Unicef said poorer states had rejected more than 100-million doses of vaccines distributed by Covax in December alone, mainly due to their expiry date.

“You want to have adequate time to move vaccines from depots,” Kenya’s health ministry spokesperson Mburugu Gikunda said last week, noting doses close to expiry would be wasted if accepted.



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