NAIROBI, Kenya — The African Union’s special envoy on Covid-19 urged Europe to relax restrictions on vaccine makers’ exports so that African countries could buy more doses and try to stem a fast-surging third wave of the pandemic driven mainly by the more contagious Delta variant.
Speaking in an online news conference on Thursday, the envoy, Strive Masiyiwa, criticized wealthy nations for giving short shrift to Africa’s needs while monopolizing manufacturers’ vaccine output for their own citizens. If Europe can lift lockdowns to let soccer fans throng its stadiums, he said, it is time to open up and let African countries buy more vaccine doses from Europe.
Mr. Masiyiwa spoke about a number of issues related to vaccines, including the European Union’s decision not to recognize Covishield — the India-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine that most African countries are relying on — in its digital travel pass, which went into use on Thursday.
Just over 1 percent of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated so far, according to the World Health Organization, while nearly every country in Europe has surpassed 25 percent. Some are over 45 percent.
To get vaccine supplies, African nations are relying largely on the global purchasing and distribution mechanism known as Covax. It was not immediately clear whether European-made vaccine doses donated through Covax had reached any African countries. European states like France and Denmark have separately donated hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses to African countries like Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya.
The European Union began exerting control on vaccine exports in January, as the virus surged in its member nations, and may consider extending that control through September.
Mr. Masiyiwa said that access, not charity, was the main need now. “We are not asking for donations — in fact, we have money to buy vaccines,” he said. “Vaccines are not expensive, certainly when it comes to the lives of our people.”
The European Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At a separate news conference on Thursday, an official with European Medicines Agency noted that vaccines the agency had authorized for use in the European Union — those made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Jonson — all seem to protect against the Delta variant. Those are the vaccines accepted in the E.U.’s digital travel pass.
So far, there is no comparable data on the efficacy of the Covishield against Delta.
On Thursday, Covax urged “all regional, national and local government authorities to recognize as fully vaccinated” people who received any vaccine approved by the W.H.O., which include the four accepted in the E.U.’s travel pass, Covishield and two Chinese-made vaccines, Sinopharm and Sinovac-CoronaVac.
Africa is experiencing its steepest Covid surge yet, with more than 200,000 new cases reported in the past week. The continent is on “the verge of exceeding its worst week ever in this pandemic,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Africa, adding that “the speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before.”
South Africa alone reported more than 105,000 cases in the week ending June 27, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Daily death reports in the Democratic Republic of Congo have more than doubled over the last month. In Kenya, more than a dozen counties have been placed in a partial lockdown.
Mr. Masiyiwa said on Thursday that the first consignment of donated American vaccines, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson doses, were due to arrive in the next few days.
Dr. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa C.D.C., said that if vaccinations in Africa did not accelerate soon, the consequences would be catastrophic. “We don’t want to be the continent of Covid,” he said.