Africa welcomes COVAX doses but warns against 'selfishness'

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Medical staff look out from a window as officials prepare for a ceremony to commence the country's first coronavirus vaccinations using AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative, at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya Friday, March 5, 2021. Urgent calls for COVID-19 vaccine fairness rang through African countries on Friday as more welcomed or rolled out doses from the global COVAX initiative, with officials acutely aware their continent needs much more. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

KAMPALA – Urgent calls for COVID-19 vaccine fairness rang through African countries on Friday as more welcomed or rolled out doses from the global COVAX initiative, with officials acutely aware their continent needs much more.

“Rich countries should not be so selfish,” Pontiano Kaleebu, head of the Uganda Virus Research Institute, said as his country received its first doses. “It’s a concern, and everyone is talking about it.”

The East African nation of 45 million people was receiving under 1 million vaccine doses — 864,000. It’s the first batch of a total of 18 million COVAX doses for Uganda, but when all will arrive is not known.

That number is “not going to do much,” said Monica Musenero, an epidemiologist and presidential adviser, though she added that “we can advocate for more vaccines, but we should also appreciate what we’ve got.”

The foundation of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, on Friday issued a statement saying that “more must be done, immediately, to ensure lower-income countries have faster access to COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostic tools and treatments.”

The foundation said a small number of rich countries hold the majority of vaccine doses.

“This is not a time for selfishness,” its statement said, and it noted growing calls for a waiver of intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines to allow for faster, wider production — a proposal opposed by the European Union and countries including the United States, Britain and Canada.

While the COVAX initiative was created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries receive COVID-19 vaccines, it has faced delays and limited supply.