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The ECFR’s Theodore Murphy Proposes a Radical Idea For How Europe Can Catch Up to China’s C19 Vaccine Outreach in Africa

Members of Alibaba's logistics division Cainiao pose in front of an Ethiopian Airlines jet to mark a new vaccine distribution partnership. Photo: handout.

It’s now plainly evident that wealthy countries are hoarding COVID-19 vaccines for their own populations at the expense of millions of people in poor, developing countries will have been pushed to the back of the line.

It’s also apparent that the Covax alliance that aimed to provide up to 20% of a country’s population with access to affordable vaccines is not up to the task.

This situation is prompting growing concern in Europe that the burgeoning vaccine crisis in Africa will provide China with a considerable geopolitical advantage given that the Chinese appear increasingly well-positioned to both manufacture and distribute large quantities of vaccines across the continent.

Theodore Murphy, head of the Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, proposes a solution that will both help to limit the geopolitical benefit to China while at the same time make it easier for Africans to access new supplies of approved vaccines: “enable countries to make the vaccine themselves.”

Key Highlights From Theodore Murphy’s Vaccine Production Proposal

  • AFRICANS CAN BUILD A VACCINE BETTER SUITED FOR THEIR NEEDS: “This would not be an immediate silver bullet, but Africa will have a long wait for Western-produced vaccines anyway. And African-produced vaccines would focus on the needs of the African specific context, such as prioritizing less extremely cold-chain-dependent varieties. The scale of the gesture would signal a seriousness of intent currently missing and see off any whiff of hypocrisy.
  • INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS WAIVER: “Contributions from public funds mean the EU has a degree of leverage to persuade the pharmaceutical producers to actively support technology transfer to Africa. The EU could centralize such an arrangement so that it applies across the EU 27, making for one special arrangement rather than a proliferation of exceptions across European states.”
  • CONCLUSION: “It may yet emerge that China’s vaccine production falls short or has quality issues. Europe may also manage to scale up production and decide that its over-acquisitiveness means it has vaccines left over. But in this scenario, China will not abandon its objective. It will simply shift approaches. The remaining option will be supported to African vaccine manufacture. Europe should move first.”

Read the full commentary on the ECFR website.

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