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COVID’s Aftershocks: Can Biden give global vaccine goals a shot?

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A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter, and read on for our take on COVAX’s lowered expectations, Nigeria’s lockdown risk, and the toll of vaccine inequity on climate talks and microchip supply chains.

Top news

Stop Biden time: Intent on building an “arsenal of vaccines for the world,” US President Joe Biden is calling for a global summit to boost vaccine supply. This comes on the back of a $3 billion commitment to vaccine manufacturing and a call for an “Apollo style” fund for pandemic preparedness, both of which are diplomatic leverage to push other leaders on their pledges on dollars and doses. Welcome news after G20 health ministers shared more rhetoric than doses this week.

Coup and Coke: Guinea’s military overthrew President Alpha Condé on Sunday, threatening the country’s COVID-19 response and adding uncertainty to West Africa, a region that has experienced four attempts to undermine democratically elected leaders in the past year. National health workers assert that health services won’t be disrupted, but Guinea has also experienced Marberg and Ebola infections this year, and regional experts are concerned. Aluminum (think cans of Coke) hit decade highs, compounding concerns about inflation and supply chain disruptions.

Mission (possibly) impossible: Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta region faces a potential lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise, threatening to derail extraction of the country’s leading export amid an oil market rebound. Oil accounts for half of the government’s revenue — but another phase of lockdown-related maintenance delays would also have economic aftershocks in Europe, which consumes 45% of the country’s exported oil. To avert lockdown, Governor Nyesom Wike said residents need to get vaccinated and mask up. With a nationwide surge in cases, vaccination rates below 1%, and reports of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, a lockdown may be unavoidable.

Chips & supply dips: The global microchip shortage could persist into 2023, a worrisome development for a bottlenecked supply chain that drove Europe’s inflation rate to a decade-high this summer. This shortage is caused by increased demand in widely vaccinated countries as their economies reopen, while lockdowns in upstream production centers in Asia limit their export capacity. Microchips have rightfully received a lot of attention — they are critical for everything from military equipment to dog grooming machines — but this phenomenon is rapidly infecting new industries as well. If inflation leads to interest rate hikes, the cost of servicing African debt could become unsustainable.

Can’t get the stock: COVAX reduced its estimates for available doses by 25% (equal to 500 million doses) for Q4 of this year. Not a good sign when Africa’s vaccination rate is 18.5 times lower than their EU counterparts. But new analysis from our partner Airfinity shows that if G7 countries share their 1.2 billion surplus doses this year, it would avert the deaths of up to 2.8 million people. Reliability of vaccine supply is increasing for rich countries, and getting worse for poor countries. That’s an astoundingly unequal vaccine rollout.

Return to sender: The EU is set to return 20 million Johnson & Johnson doses procured from a South Africa plant earlier this year, after receiving scathing criticism from African activists and leaders and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In a win for everyone who cares about ending the pandemic, all future J&J vaccines partially or fully produced in Africa will stay there.

Whac-A-Mole: Hundreds of thousands of more people will die of tuberculosis because of COVID-19’s disruptive impacts on testing, healthcare, and medical supply chains. HIV prevention services dropped by 11% last year, and malaria testing dropped while treatment stalled out. Investing in health workers, health systems, and the tools needed to fight both these diseases and COVID-19 can help mitigate deadly resurgences — or as one expert cheekily put it, stop us from playing “global health Whac-a-Mole.”

Excessive loss: The total number of COVID-19-related deaths globally is likely 15.2 million people, 3.3 times higher than the official figure, according to updated research from the Economist. Nearly 2 million of those deaths were in Africa, about 10 times higher than the official figure. This captures deaths that are not part of the official count due to testing irregularities, plus those that were caused by COVID-19’s strain on healthcare systems. Chronic data gaps make it harder for African countries to develop evidence-based policies or appeal for aid.

Hostage situation: Climate Action Network, the world’s largest environmental network, called for a postponement of the UN climate talks as vaccine inequity and its aftershocks would make it nearly impossible for many developing countries to participate in person. The “issue of participation at COP26 is a microcosm of the larger patterns of global injustice and exclusion that we see playing out.” So to recap: A pivotal summit on combating a “code red for humanity” may be held hostage by wealthy leaders’ inaction on vaccine inequity.

Speaking of climate injustice: Madagascar — which produces 0.01% of the world’s carbon emissions — is among the first countries to face a famine induced by climate change. COVID-19’s economic impacts are compounding the devastating impacts of its four-year drought, and the UN has warned of a severe humanitarian crisis in the country. In part because of the prominence of the country’s (currently shuttered) tourism industry, Madagascar’s GDP shrunk by 4.2% in 2020, and the IMF anticipates a slow rebound.

EcoHeros: European Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) meet on 10 September to discuss how much of their $170 billion worth of newly received Special Drawing Rights they will share with countries that desperately need more liquidity. We’re not expecting a consensus just yet, but for a continent that talks a good game on an equal partnership with Africa, now would be a great time to put some skin in the game.

Non fungible: El Salvador’s troubled adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender this week highlights the challenges and opportunities for widespread crypto uptake in African countries. Cryptocurrencies present exciting potential for inclusivity and reduced red tape in under-banked communities — remittance fees in Nigeria are up to two-thirds lower, for example, which is particularly appealing in the current economic crisis. But in El Salvador, technical issues, public protest, and a 19% drop in value showed the risks for countries.. The currency’s excessive energy usage could also complicate its adoption in other countries.

The numbers

  • $600 million: The amount in emergency loans approved by the IMF to aid Tanzania’s COVID-19 response.
  • 800: The number of cholera cases reported in Niger since mid-August, reaching epidemic levels.

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