The Global North is responding to vaccine inequality by dumping near-expired doses on African countries without infrastructure to disseminate them in time. Those doses end up in the trash — and it’s the fault of rich countries.

By Beauty Dhlamini, Jacobin

The emergence and rapid domination of the Omicron variant is the sharp reminder that COVID-19 remains a global threat, and that vaccinating the whole world is the only way forward. Yet the Global North continues to accept reality of vaccine apartheid, while the rest of the world, particularly Africa, pays the price.

Vaccines have been and remain in short supply in Africa after countries in the Global North hoarded all initial orders from pharmaceutical companies and refused to waiver vaccine patents. As a result, African countries have struggled to secure enough vaccines to roll out mass immunization campaigns. Many are reliant on donations from global vaccine scheme COVAX, co-led by the WHO and partners, including the Gavi vaccine alliance.

A syringe is flung in a trashcan against a map of the global south

Despite deliveries of vaccines to Africa increasing in recent months, there have been claims that weak health care systems and limited infrastructure are holding back rollouts once they arrive. Another, related issue has emerged, too: vaccine wastage.

Vaccine wastage is defined as any vialled vaccine that goes unused, and to some extent, it’s expected. Given the scale of the COVID-19 vaccination programs, including booster campaigns, some vaccine wastage has been unavoidable for a variety of reasons, including the characteristics of the vaccine, logistical issues with cold chain supply, storage failure, vial size, and specific clinical contexts. But the volume is heavily dependent on vaccination rollout programs, equipment, and immunization workers’ practice.

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COVID-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto To: Policy Makers

Petition Text

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the urgency of changing global structures of inequity and violence. We, people around the world, will seize this historical moment. We are building solidarity at every level: local, national, global. Despite the need to physically distance, we are building mutual aid groups, community networks, and social movements. We declare this manifesto today to offer a vision of the world we are building, the world we are demanding, the world we will achieve.

1. We demand strong, universal health care systems and health care as a basic right for all humans.

2. We demand an immediate global ceasefire in all conflicts and an end to the disease of war. We demand that every nation move at least half its military spending to provide health care, housing, childcare, nutrition, education, Internet access, and other social needs so we can truly protect people’s physical, psychological, and economic security, including through the closure of foreign military bases, the cessation of military exercises, and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

3. We demand that unsustainable capitalist economies, based on the fantasy of endless growth, be replaced with cooperatively based economies of care, where human life, biodiversity, and our natural resources are conserved and a universal basic income is guaranteed so that governments can work together to combat the existential threat of climate change.

4. We demand an immediate lifting of all sanctions targeting entire nations, which are impoverishing vulnerable populations and killing people by blocking access to medicines and medical supplies.

5. We demand that all workers be protected against COVID-19 and have their long-term occupational health, economic, and labor rights guaranteed.

6. We demand the full protection of all people, especially the most vulnerable, including women and other victims of intimate partner violence and child abuse, the elderly, the impoverished, prisoners and detainees, refugees and other displaced peoples, migrants regardless of immigration status, the homeless, LGBTQIA+ individuals, racial/ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and those disability or ability challenged, among others.

7. We demand that wealthy nations live up to their responsibility to provide medical aid (including through the World Health Organization) and debt relief to save lives in countries without strong public health systems because of long histories of colonialism, neocolonialism, and other exploitation, foreign and domestic.

8. We demand that governments and corporations respect privacy and not exploit the pandemic to expand repressive measures such as surveillance, detention without trial, and restrictions on basic human rights to assembly, free expression, self-determination, and the vote.

9. We demand that when governments implement economic stimulus programs and re-open their economies they prioritize the needs of people over the interests of corporate, financial, and political elites.

In a world where the gap between rich and poor is obscene, with the world’s richest 1% having more than twice the wealth of 6.9 billion people, a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power globally and within nations is imperative. Every human being must have the opportunity to live a healthy, creative, and fulfilling life, free of the ravages of poverty, exploitation, and domination.

Why is this important?

A group of around 50 people from more than 12 countries drafted the Manifesto in recent weeks. Many prominent people are supporting it. People in general are more awake to the absurdity of a planet in which the richest 8 people have more wealth than the poorest 3.8 billion than ever before as this pandemic spreads. We are circulating this widely in multiple languages to help frame the debate and actions moving forward, raising global demands that address the inequity resulting from decades of neoliberal economic policies and rampant and unbridled militarism.