“The priority right now is protecting frontline health workers,” said Marion Pechayre, MSF head of mission. “If Malawi had 40,000 doses of vaccine, we could at least start by vaccinating health staff in the country’s main hotspots. Without this, the situation will soon be untenable.” Since the start of this second wave in mid-December, 1,298 frontline health workers in Malawi have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine have died.
“People in the poorest countries seem to be at the back of the line to access these crucial vaccines,” Jamet said. “There is an urgent need for vaccination in countries in Southern Africa struggling to respond to the aggressive spread of this new virus strain, which is overwhelming their health systems.”
While Mozambique, Eswatini and Malawi go without vaccines, wealthier nations that could afford to strike bilateral deals with pharmaceutical corporations are hoarding vaccines with the intention to vaccinate beyond the priority groups.
“It would be indefensible if some countries started to vaccinate their lower-risk citizens while many countries in Africa are still waiting to vaccinate their very first frontline health workers,” Jamet said. “This totally goes against the World Health Organization’s equitable allocation framework. Not only will it prolong the pandemic, but it will put even more lives at risk. We urge governments who have secured more doses than they need for vaccinating their high-risk groups to urgently share their doses, so that other countries can start vaccinating. This is a global pandemic that requires a global spirit of solidarity if we truly hope to bring it under control.”
From early on in the pandemic, MSF has been pushing to ensure that any COVID-19 vaccines that hit the market are distributed to people all over the world at an affordable, at-cost price. This could be done through the COVAX Facility, a global initiative under Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries.