European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrive for the Meeting of the College of Commissioners at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday Sept.14 2021. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will deliver the 2021 State of the Union Wednesday. (Julien Warnand, Pool Photo via AP)
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top official said Wednesday that ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations in low-income nations around the world was the No. 1 priority right now and committed another 200 million vaccine doses to Africa.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used a State of the European Union speech on Wednesday to announce the new donation to be fully delivered by the middle of next year and comes on top of 250 million already pledged.
Even when rich nations are already contemplating giving a third, booster shot to large swathes of their populations, just about everyone in the globe's poorer nations is still waiting to be fully vaccinated, laying bare an acute sense of inequality.
“Our first and most urgent priority is to speed up global vaccination," von der Leyen told European parliamentarians in a plenary left nearly empty because of continued virus regulations.
Von der Leyen called it an “investment in solidarity and it is an investment also in global health.”
She said that on top of delivering 700 million doses to Europeans, the 27-nation bloc had also sent as many to a combined 130 nations.
“We are the only region in the world to achieve this,” she said. "With less than 1% of global doses administered to lower income countries, the scale of injustice and the level of urgency is obvious.”
Even though the EU had allowed exports even when its own population was still struggling to get enough doses, the challenge to get the world vaccinated remains immense.
African health officials have said they need just under 800 million doses to vaccinate 60% of the continent’s population. As of last week, 145 million doses had been procured, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just 3.5% of people across the continent of 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated, the CDC says, amid frustration over hoarding, export controls and now the rollout of booster shots in richer countries.
Looking ahead, von der Leyen said the bloc was also investing 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to boost the increase of vaccine production capacity in Africa.
Also looking inward, the European Commission president acknowledged how the bloc was initially caught unaware, long lagged the U.S. and Britain in vaccination rates before regrouping and meeting its goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated this summer.
She lauded the preparations to set up the HERA emergency preparedness and response authority and insisted that academic science, private sector knowledge should be joined up with government authorities in a new group that should be back by lavish funding of about 50 billion euros ($60 billion) by 2027.
Cara Anna contributed to this report from Nairobi.
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