"The EU's Vaccine Apartheid"

Vaccinations with Asian-produced vaccines are not validated for entrance into the EU - provoking fierce protest in Africa, where the EU promotes the distribution of these vaccines.

BRUSSELS |

BRUSSELS (Own report) - The EU's refusal to validate immunizations with vaccines produced outside the Union for entrance into the EU, has provoked fierce protest on the African continent. This protest is particularly prompted by the fact that the EU and its competent authority EMA (European Medicines Agency) have so far classified the AstraZeneca vaccine as effective against Covid-19, only if it was produced in plants on the European continent and not, if it originated from the Serum Institute of India (SII). Since vaccines produced in European plants have, so far, been exclusively used for rich countries, the international Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative has distributed SII vaccines also to African countries. Following the African Union's (AU) indignant reactions, politicians and media outlets from various African countries are now speaking out. Madagascar's health minister wonders "if there isn’t one vaccine for Africans and another for Europeans." An East-African large circulation weekly accuses the EU of "vaccine apartheid."

"The Next Round of Covid Diplomacy"

For weeks, experts have been warning that the introduction of a digital EU vaccine passport could provoke significant foreign policy problems, if Brussels insists on its regulations. Already in mid-May, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) stated that the EU's reputation has been damaged in terms of "Covid diplomacy." In the spring of 2020, the EU hoarded masks, while China and other countries provided medical equipment in the combat against the pandemic.[1] While the EU struggled to get its own vaccine efforts off the ground, countries such as Israel, the United Kingdom, "and even Serbia" overtook it in the race to vaccinate people. Not only had European countries been bypassed by the USA in donating vaccines to the low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), it was also not well received that the EU is still blocking a temporary waiver of vaccine patents, whereas the United States has agreed - albeit with obvious restrictions.[2] "The EU has generally been less present than other powers on the map of vaccine diplomacy," according to the ECFR. However, it is possible "to win the next round of covid diplomacy," depending also on the rollout of vaccine passports.

"The EU's Reputation"

As the ECFR noted in May, particularly with regard to the EU's eastern and southeastern neighbors, not only their vaccination certificates and the EU's vaccination passports must be made formally compatible to remove such obstacles as travel restrictions into the EU. A solution must also be found to the fact that many inhabitants of neighboring countries have been vaccinated with Russian or Chinese vaccines, which have not or not yet been approved by the EU's competent authority, the EMA.[3] However, since, according to official EU rules, permission to enter into the EU is linked to immunization with a vaccine approved by EMA, currently only Albanians, for example, who have received BioNTech/Pfizer jabs may visit EU member countries, but not their fellow citizens who were vaccinated with Russian or Chinese vaccines. If this were to continue, it would risk creating "diplomatic imbroglios that are unlikely to improve the EU’s image in those countries," the EFCR warned. The way the EU is handling this, will have "a profound impact on the EU's reputation in the years to come."

Africa's Vaccine Shortage

The EU, which, aside from its grandiose pronouncements, and mainly being preoccupied with itself and punishing countries it does not like, had largely ignored those warnings. It is currently reaping the first deluge of protests, particularly from the African continent, where the supply of vaccines has been especially miserable. The original plan was to supply the African countries via the international COVAX initiative, which sought to vaccinate one-fifth of the population of each of the LMICs by the end of this year. It has purchased 2.4 billion doses in advance for this purpose. The western states, including Germany and the EU, boast of their financial contribution. However, due to the fact that those very same western states have hoarded most of the vaccines for themselves - including booster shots for the fall - there are hardly any more vaccines available. As of July 2, COVAX had shipped not more than 95 million doses.[4] On the African continent, with a population of nearly 1.3 billion, by May, only 18.2 million doses had been delivered through COVAX. African countries have received 24 million doses so far from China, which, according to the specialized "Bridge Beijing" portal, has already delivered 400 million doses to developing and emerging countries.[5]

Not Validated

Protest has been provoked by the fact that the EU has not validated those vaccines injected in Africa. This pertains not only to Chinese vaccines, but also to AstraZeneca, which forms the bulk of the COVAX deliveries. The reason: COVAX has its AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (SII), because the doses produced in Europe are exclusively reserved for deliveries to wealthy countries. In spite of many countries having validated the Indian-produced AstraZeneca, just like the one produced in Europe, and have administered it to some of their citizens, the EU and its competent authority EMA still categorically refuse to recognize it. On the African continent, the awareness that Africa has been held off with vaccines that even the EU mistrusts, and which therefore do not permit entry into its member countries, has been provoking unusually angry reactions over the past few days.

"Political Games," "Ethnocentrism"

Last Thursday, the African Union (AU) officially stated - still very cautiously - that the EU's treatment "puts at risk the equitable treatment" of people vaccinated in Africa.[6] AU Special Envoy steering the Covid-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, Strive Masiyiwa, recalled, with outrage, that in the EU he was confronted with the argument that the European vaccine production is needed to meet the needs of Europeans, and referred to COVAX with its Indian-produced vaccine. "So how is it that now they tell us that those vaccines are not valid?"[7] Madagascar's Minister of Health, Professor Jean-Louis Rakotovao-Hanitrala, said he was "surprised and shocked." It "makes us wonder if there isn't one vaccine for Africans and another for Europeans."[8] In a commentary on Kenya's Capital FM radio station there was talk of "duplicity," of "discriminatory" treatment and "ethnocentrism" in Europe. With its exports, China is "filling the gap structurally created by rich countries."[9] The widely read weekly, "The East African" dryly stated that the AU is "deeply upset." In addition, the journal accused the EU of "vaccine apartheid," a rarely unambiguously expressed criticism of the way former colonial powers are treating the African continent.[10]

 

[1] Joanna Hosa, Tefta Kelmendi, Nicu Popescu: Vaccine passports: How the EU can win the next round of covid diplomacy. ecfr.eu 19.05.2021.

[2] See also Die Welt impfen (III).

[3] Joanna Hosa, Tefta Kelmendi, Nicu Popescu: Vaccine passports: How the EU can win the next round of covid diplomacy. ecfr.eu 19.05.2021.

[4] T. V. Padma: COVID vaccines to reach poorest countries in 2023 - despite recent pledges. nature.com 05.07.2021.

[5] China Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker. bridgebeijing.com.

[6] African Union warns EU over vaccine certificate 'inequality'. euractiv.com 30.06.2021.

[7] Africa protests EU's vaccine apartheid in Green Pass policy. theeastafrican.co.ke 05.07.2021.

[8] European Union does not recognize Covishield vaccine. northafricapost.com 24.06.2021.

[9] Adhere Cavince: Discriminatory EU Vaccines Passport Mark of Duplicity. capitalfm.co.ke 05.07.2021.

[10] Africa protests EU's vaccine apartheid in Green Pass policy. theeastafrican.co.ke 05.07.2021.