The COVAX scheme is “destined to fail,” according to the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, Archbishop Thabo Makgabo was heavily critical of the program aimed at helping developing countries get vaccine access and said it was unambitious in its goals and hindered by rich countries hoarding doses.
“If one looks at the COVAX system and its intention, it’s supposed to help the global south and the poorest of the poor countries to vaccinate only 3% – it is destined to fail,” he said.
COVAX is an entity run by a coalition that includes the Vaccine Alliance known as Gavi and the World Health Organization, and is funded by donations from governments, multilateral institutions and foundations. Its mission is to buy coronavirus vaccines in bulk and send them to poorer nations that can't compete with wealthy countries in securing contracts with the major drug companies.
WHO officials have said they expect COVAX will help just 3.3% of the populations of low-income countries be vaccinated by the end of June. Gavi itself forecasts vaccines distributed through COVAX will reach 27% of the populations of lower-income countries this year.
“I've seen people die without saying goodbye to their families. If one looks at the scourge in India… one is anxious that should we have that magnitude in the [African] continent, the continent will be wiped off the face of this Earth whilst others are hoarding. This is not a moral issue only but it is an issue of greed and an issue that the world should really speak up and stand up against such behavior in the face of death,” the Archbishop said.
Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, who was also on the program, told Amanpour there have been export bans and there has not been sharing of doses “which has been a real challenge”.
“COVAX has been able to procure over two billion doses which will be available by the end of 2021. That should cover 30% of the population but they are not here today,” Berkley said.
“At the same time, wealthy countries bought more than a billion and a half doses beyond the amount they need to cover their citizens because they didn't know which vaccines would work. So what we're asking is right now at this critical time, they share those doses so we can make sure that, at least, the healthcare workers and the highest risk groups get served everywhere in the world because we're only safe if everybody is safe and that's the reality of this pandemic.”
On Tuesday, the Archbishop was one of 145 religious leaders who signed a letter calling on countries and pharmaceutical companies to provide enough vaccines to immunize the entire global population.
He told Amanpour that he hopes that message reaches G7 leaders and called on those leaders, and Canada in particular, to end vaccine nationalism: “We are only safe if everyone is safe… I was pained that Canada also used the COVAX …to buy so many vaccines.
“G7 leaders, please examine your conscience... think about life rather than profits,” he added.
Berkley responded to the Archbishop’s comments on Canada, saying: “The way COVAX was set up was to try to avoid these bilateral deals and have global solidarity and equitable access. We invited all countries to join… we have a large number of doses as I've mentioned for the second half of the year but obviously we have to oblige the people who have put money on the table to buy doses and we keep our promises.”