KEY POINTS

  • 'Cat-and-mouse' game would continue if poor countris left out
  • WHO also urged rich countries to stop jumping the queue
  • US economic recovery hinges on the progress of vaccination drives

As the U.S. and U.K. proceed with mass vaccination drives, a South African expert on pandemics has said hoarding vaccine supplies would ultimately work against wealthier nations.

Prof Salim Abdool Karim, chair of the South African government's coronavirus advisory panel, said it would be unconscionable that a country like the U.S. or U.K. start vaccinating low-risk young people, when Africa hasn't even started vaccinating healthcare workers and the elderly, BBC reported.

The professor's concerns underscore the plight of the rest of the world left out of the advance purchase agreements and political duels for vaccine. While Israel has administered 47.1 doses for every 100 people, most countries are still waiting for vaccines.

The World Health Organisation urged rich countries to "stop jumping the queue and cutting their own deals with manufacturers." WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said many countries were hogging the vaccines, thereby bumping up the price for poor nations.

"Some countries have mistakenly believed that they can be safe just by vaccinating their population. It simply is not true.... No one is safe until everyone is safe," Karim said. 

He said the long, international "cat-and-mouse" chase to defeat COVID-19 will continue with constantly updated vaccines if the pandemic was allowed to keep spreading in countries unable to vaccinate their people.

"There's no endgame that sees one country succeeding in controlling the virus while the rest of the world is dealing with the rampant spread. For me, we all need to stand together. It's in everyone's interests," he said. 

The South African health ministry said it has a bilateral deal with the Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine-maker, for 1.5 million doses, but that wouldn't even suffice to vaccinate the country's healthcare workers. South Africa accounts for more than a third of all COVID-19 cases in Africa.

He warned that the scenario that we could just inject people once and there would be life-long protection may not actually apply. 

"It suggests that if these kind of 23 mutations can occur just like that, it's going to occur everywhere else, and it's going to occur quite widely," Karim said. South African hospitals continue to battle the second wave of infections caused by a variant of the virus.

The United States is estimated to be sitting on enough purchase options to vaccinate every American nearly five times. Vaccination has become a politically charged theme in the country with financial experts pinning their hopes on the mass drive to usher in the much-awaited economic recovery.

"There’s nothing more important to the economy than people getting vaccinated,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said after the Fed’s two-day policy meeting. He said the pace of the rebound in US economic activity has “moderated in recent months with weakness concentrated in the most affected sectors, including leisure and hospitality sector". Countries across the globe are rolling out their vaccination campaigns Representational image Photo: AFP / Vladimir Zivojinovic