Every time I see a call from home, my heart sinks. I always fear that they’re ringing to say that my grandmother has died. She has been on a ventilator for four weeks and my anxiety is near breaking point. The dreaded call could come at any time: Covid-19. Again.
Even at 96, my Kenyan grandmother was among hundreds of millions in the developing world who was not vaccinated until recently because rich nations have hoarded most of the available shots. Though I’m more than 60 years younger than her, I was fully inoculated by April because I was living in the United States, where anybody over 12 can get a vaccine if they want one. The acute shortage of doses for the world’s poorest people has been called “vaccine apartheid,” “greed” and a “catastrophic moral failure.” Yet the public shaming has made little real difference, and Africa has received the fewest vaccines in the globe so far.
Around half of all Americans are now fully vaccinated. Here in Kenya, that figure stands at just 1.1% of the population. While wealthy countries are dropping all restrictions and reopening their societies because most adults are fully inoculated, new cases are rising at the fastest rate ever across Africa, where very few people are vaccinated. The West has stockpiled more vaccines than they will ever need, with deals brokered by several countries enabling them to buy enough doses to vaccinate each of their citizens several times over. At the start of the year North American countries had purchased enough doses to fully vaccinate the region’s population more than twice, while African countries had only secured enough does to cover a third of the continent’s population. The world’s youngest nation South Sudan has now completely run out of vaccines and shut down its program because it doesn’t know when it will get more shots.