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Vaccine nationalism a threat to African mobility

Travel could be stymied if continent left behind in Covid-19 immunisations

The head of the Africa Centres of Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the global rush for a Covid-19 vaccine could leave Africans unable to travel internationally. 

Africa is only likely to start getting access to vaccines in the second quarter of 2021, John Nkengasong told a virtual press briefing on 26 November. But some high-income countries have already signalled that they could require inbound travellers to show vaccination certificates before then.

“What would be extremely dangerous is that people [in rich countries] vaccinate themselves and then impose conditions on who can come in and who can’t,” Nkengasong said. "Then, our population will be stranded.

He said that a global discussion around travel restrictions and Covid-19 vaccines needs to take place urgently. “It will change the dynamics of how we approach vaccine access." 

This consequence of a global rush for vaccines is “not hypothetical”, he added. “I have been in public health for 30 years and I have seen how Africa is neglected.” 

It took ten years for Africa to get access to life-saving HIV drugs, he pointed out, and in April only four African countries were on a list of nations from where travellers could go to Europe. “So we are very concerned as a continent that we won’t have access to vaccines in a timely fashion,” he said.