Richest countries buy up Covid-19 vaccines at the expense of poorer nations
Wealthy governments buying up coronavirus vaccine doses will leave poorer countries without protection, campaigners have warned.
According to Global Justice Now, both Pfizer and Moderna have sold hundreds of millions of doses to rich countries. As a percentage of the doses they are able to produce by the end of 2021, Moderna has sold 78% to wealthier nations, and Pfizer 82%.
These countries cover less than 15% of the worldwide population.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said the British government:
is buying up as much of that limited supply as it can, so there are no vaccines left for developing countries. You couldn’t get a clearer example of how unequal the pharmaceutical system is – some make billions of pounds, while many others die because they cannot afford treatments or there are no more left for them to buy. It’s got to change.
Making vaccine deals public
According to analysis by Northeastern University, if the richest countries purchase the first two billion vaccine doses rather than waiting for them to be distributed equitably, nearly double the number of people could die.
Global Justice Now has called for patents to be suspended on all Covid-19 vaccines. This would allow multiple manufacturers access to the knowledge and rights that would enable quickest production. Similar calls have been made by Oxfam.
With today’s news of the Oxford University vaccine’s efficacy, the organisation has urged for it to be made public. This vaccine is cheaper, as well as easier to store and transport, than the other successful ones.
Providing access to vaccines
COVAX is an initiative led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Centre for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and vaccine alliance Gavi. It aims to provide equal access, regardless of country income, to a large range of Covid-19 vaccines.
Wealthy nations who can afford to buy vaccine doses can join COVAX to provide them with an insurance option. If the vaccine they buy fails, investing in COVAX’s portfolio will guarantee proportional access to any successful vaccines.
Investment by richer countries allows COVAX to provide vaccine doses for 92 low-income countries that cannot afford to buy doses on their own.
Expanding production capacity
Over $2bn has been raised for the COVAX programme so far. However, Gavi says $5bn more is needed by the end of 2021 to ensure equal access to vaccine doses.
The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines are both part of the COVAX portfolio.
Part of COVAX’s role is to provide incentives to manufacturers to convince them to expand production capacity of vaccines.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said:
This pandemic is unprecedented, and it has taken the whole world hostage. The only option we have is cooperation and solidarity. It is a must. The world is seeing it that way.
Deals outside of COVAX
Several countries, such as the UK, have invested in COVAX, but are also making deals with pharmaceutical companies directly.
Duke University researcher Andrea Taylor told the BBC:
They’re investing generously in COVAX but at the same time they’re undermining that by taking doses off the market when we know demand will outstrip supply.
According to research by Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center, more than 6.4bn vaccine doses have already been bought. This could add up to almost half of the projected vaccine supply in 2021.
Limitations of COVAX
Heidi Chow, pharmaceuticals campaigner at Global Justice Now, told the Canary that companies not sharing patents and technology details could affect COVAX’s efficacy.
Ms Chow said:
Because of these two barriers, there are not going to be enough manufacturers mobilised to make the mass quantities needed for the global population. The COVAX facility does not address either of these points. They could support the proposal to suspend patent rules for Covid19 vaccines and treatments until global immunisation is achieved which could help with the patent rules and they could support the WHO’s Covid-19 Technology Access pool that could help with technology transfer BUT COVAX has not come out in support of either.
Without addressing these structural issues, COVAX is only ever going to be working within the limitations of the system.
There just isn’t enough suppliers and so rich countries are depleting whatever global stocks there are by hoarding them for themselves. And it’s worse for countries like the UK who are committed to COVAX and yet has hoarded huge amounts of vaccines, leaving very little for COVAX to purchase.
Featured image via Pexels/RF._.studio
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