South Africa’s president criticizes ‘vaccine nationalism’

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African president and African Union chairman Cyril Ramaphosa has called on richer nations to release surplus vaccine doses to the rest of the world.

Delivering an address Tuesday to the virtual World Economic Forum dialogue, Ramaphosa highlighted the African Union’s efforts to secure vaccines for African nations and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.

“We are deeply concerned about the problem of vaccine nationalism, which, unless addressed, will endanger the recovery of all countries,” he said.

“Ending the pandemic worldwide will require greater collaboration on the rollout of vaccines, ensuring that no country is left behind in this effort,” said Ramaphosa.

According to Ramaphosa, some countries have acquired more doses than they need to vaccinate their populations.

“Rich countries in the world are holding on to these vaccines and we are saying ‘Release the excess vaccines that you have ordered and hoarded.’ There is just no need for a country which perhaps has about 40 million people to go and acquire 120 million doses or even 160 million and yet the world needs access to those vaccines,” he said.

The African Union’s vaccine acquisition task team had acquired 270 million vaccine doses directly from manufacturers in addition to the 600 million doses to be acquired from the global COVAX facility, he said.

South Africa itself has procured more than 20 million doses directly from vaccine manufacturers, said Ramaphosa. It is to get another 6 million through the COVAX facility, which means the country must acquire 14 million more vaccines to accomplish its goal of vaccinating about 67% of its population of 60 million by the end of 2021.

Turning to Africa’s economic development, Ramaphosa said that the African Continental Free Trade Area is a positive achievement.

The free trade area, which aims to create a single unified market for Africa’s population and to boost economic development, became operational on Jan. 1.

The general agreement for the free trade area has been signed by all of Africa’s countries, except for Eritrea.

“This is possibly the most important initiative that the African continent has embarked upon,” he said.

“Integration means much more when it affects the economic lives of the countries of the continent. We are a market of 1.2 billion people and it’s a growing market as seen by everyone around the world,” he said.

In the long-term, the free trade area will encourage greater trade among African nations and tariffs would be reduced or eliminated to a large extent, Ramaphosa said.