Shock of India Covid Chaos Spurs South Africa To Order Sinopharm, Sputnik Vaccines
May 3, 2021 (EIRNS)—At his weekly press conference on April 29, Africa CDC chairman John Nkengasong said:
“We are watching in total disbelief what is happening in India. The situation in India is very, very concerning to us as a continent. It speaks to the fact that we as a continent must be very prepared,” later also stating that, “It is a wake-up call. We cannot be indifferent to what is happening in India. We must act now, decisively and collectively, we need to regroup and prepare ourselves.”
While the threat of new, deadlier variants is high on Nkengasong’s list of worries, the immediate concern is over the overall vulnerability of the continent through lack of health infrastructure, most clearly seen in the case of vaccine distribution. With the spike in virus in India, the country has all but eliminated itself as a supplier of vaccines on the global market. Since India’s AstraZeneca plant has been the primary supplier of doses for the COVAX distribution, it has put that entire scheme—linchpin of the “Western” world pandemic response—into new focus as another “failed state” in the wake of the imperialists’ sinking ship.
That it is not simply the lack of “supply” of vaccines which plagues Africa, is seen in the fact that several African countries—poster-children of the COVAX program—are literally on the verge of destroying doses for their inability to distribute them before their expiry. While the Western press is quick to defer blame by raising the issue of “vaccine hesitancy” (which is both real and justified), the heart of the issue is that raised by Schiller Institute chairwoman Helga Zepp-LaRouche: The lack of a global health infrastructure in depth. It is not lack of desire, but lack of trained personnel; sanitary facilities; power to run them; and transportation infrastructure to distribute as well as for the public to access them, which accounts for Africa’s apparent “hesitancy.”
Malawi is destroying 16,000 unadministered AstraZeneca (COVAX) doses which expired in April, despite assurances from AZ that vaccines would hold beyond expiration; Uganda has only dispensed 230,000 of the 964,000 doses of the AZ vaccine it has received since March 10. Faced with the same problem, the D.R. Congo has chosen to donate 1.3 million (the majority of its 1.7 million) doses to other countries: According to WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti, agreements are being finalized with the Central African Republic, Ghana, Senegal, and Togo.
One country which does have the ability to distribute vaccines is South Africa, and their response to the AZ loss is perhaps most telling: On April 28, it was announced—even though the regulatory process has not been fully completed—that South Africa “would be negotiating for an additional 10 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinovac vaccines,” with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize telling the press, “We are [making this announcement] now because we expect South African health product regulators to approve these vaccines.” The country plans to begin their rollout next week, with a goal to inoculate 126.5 million by the end of October.
The larger significance of these developing crises is addressed by South African Cobus van Staden, co-founder of the China Africa Project, in his weekly newsletter, “COVID and the Emerging Global Landscape.” Van Staden observes that the U.S./West is clearly losing the “optics” game, as Biden (and London) sits on “tens of millions” of unused doses while denying exports to embattled nations, and handing China an easy win on this front. Beyond that, “COVAX’s vaccine distribution has failed to meet the needs of developing countries with just 43.4 million doses spread thinly across 119 countries.”
South Africa’s “choice to opt for Chinese and Russian vaccines is a small indicator of how COVID is revealing a new world order,” van Staden states, one where rich democracies are by far winning the domestic vaccination race, but at the price of extending any coherent influence to the rest of the world. “It tends to reinforce perceptions that these countries are little rich enclaves, primarily preoccupied with domestic politics, the balancing of which depends on keeping the rest of the world at arm’s length.”
“Ensconced in that reality,” says van Staden, “Western commentators have tended to focus on Chinese and Russian vaccine diplomacy as undue attempts to gather international influence, rather than focusing on what Western relative disinterest in the same kind of outreach reveals about itself, or the wider emerging global landscape.”