States in West and Central Africa must take urgent action to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are accessible and affordable to all, Amnesty International said today.
The organization has launched a petition calling on governments to respect the principle of non-discrimination, prioritize the most at-risk groups in their vaccine rollouts, and ramp up the vaccinations of health workers, to prevent the total collapse of healthcare systems.
"The spread of new variants across West and Central Africa makes the need for fair vaccine access increasingly urgent. To protect the right to health, states must ensure everyone can access affordable and good quality vaccines, and guarantee that vaccine rollouts do not deepen inequalities," said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director.
"We call on all states in the region to ensure vaccine distribution prioritizes those who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. States must prioritize at-risk health workers, older populations, and those with comorbidities. They should also prioritize those who have been historically marginalized, depend on the informal economy, as well as those who cannot socially distance. So far COVAX has distributed 16M doses to 27 African countries. 16M doses for a continent with a more than 1.2 billion population. It is clear that vaccines are arriving too slow, and much more must be done to save lives and health systems."
While the WHO cautions that Africa may be facing a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 38 countries on the continent have begun their vaccination rollout. In West and Central Africa, the few available doses have been distributed at uneven speeds and not necessarily to those who need it most. Ghana has conducted at least 400,000 vaccinations in two weeks, compared to less than 150,000 vaccinations in Senegal over a period of six weeks.
Meanwhile some countries in West and Central Africa are reporting new variants which could be deadlier and more transmissible. According to the People's Vaccine Alliance analysis, rich countries have ordered enough doses to vaccinate their populations three times over, while 9 in 10 people in nearly 70 poorer countries-including those in West and Central Africa- are unlikely to be vaccinated at all this year, and this includes health workers and people at risk.
The petition also calls on states in West and Central Africa to incorporate key human rights standards into the vaccines' rollout plans to prevent exclusion and discrimination as they determine who will be receive the vaccine when. Governments also should communicate clearly about the benefits of vaccination and be transparent about all stages in their national vaccination's plans.
"Countries have an obligation to work together to respond to the pandemic, and wealthier states have a special responsibility to assist those with fewer resources. The vaccine nationalism approach adopted by some countries undoubtedly undermines the global fight against COVID-19," said Samira Daoud.
"States should take measures to strengthen health care systems to ensure adequate infrastructure and resources to carry out vaccination efforts. This includes the protection and prioritization of health workers and populations that are in vulnerable situations. But also, to build stronger cold supply chains to ensure safe and effective vaccination rollouts."