Richest countries buy up Covid-19 vaccines at the expense of poorer nations

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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.

Read on...

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.

She added:

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/

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  • Show Comments
    1. The flight safety instructions always say “put on your mask first before helping others” which is what we are doing with the vaccine. Pharma companies will be selling the vaccine at or below cost so they won’t be making billions in profit. I regularly travel past a multi billion dollar research campus that was instrumental in developing one of the vaccines all paid for by profit. No doubt the readers of the Canary will be refusing the vaccine and asking for it to be sent to a third world county?

          1. Why define everyone who has doubts about this ‘rushed’ vaccine an ‘Anti-vaxxer’? You merely add to the current hysterical environment of headless chickenry that began in the Houses of Pantomime and spread like a virolent virus to much of Britain (fortunately some seemed to have a natural immunity to that particular ‘bird flu’). As to the ‘news’ (via M$M) none of the British M$M have made any mention of the SUCCESSFUL protest in Denmark against mandatory vaccination, although The Spectator(y) had run a column (17/11/20) highlighting the Danish governments intention in a positive piece of propaganda. It felt no need to inform us of any other news concerning mandatory vaccination. Conclusion: ‘the news’ is not the source of all truths, it’s selective.

      1. The government could’ve paid the R&D and then manufactured at cost. Instead we (the people who fund the NHS) will be shelling out a fortune to these companies who have us by the short and curlies. At the moment the thinking is we will have to be innoculated repeatedly, perhaps once every 24 months. Meanwhile poor countries will continue to be a well of infection so that no matter how well we do here the disease never goes away.

        The people who benefit – drug company share holders. The people who lose – all of us. It’s the kind of stupid short term thinking that politicians are so well known for..

    2. Governments COULD have underwritten the costs of research and development to retain intellectual ownership of the vaccine once completed. As this is an emergency they could have compelled drug companies to do this. The resulting vaccine could have been produced at cost rather than paying for drug company profits and the formula given to those countries which couldn’t afford it, or at least at such a minimal price as to only recover R&D. This would’ve been a smart move, it would ensure that as many people had access to it at the same time as possible. What they’ve done by doing it this way is to ensure that there will always be a ‘well’ of infection for future waves of resurgence of COVID. This will result in tens of thousands of entirely unnecessary deaths. Remember, the COVID vaccine is not thought to be a permanent vaccine, it may only last 1 – 2 years, that’s IF it works for the individual, it’s 90% effective.

      BUT, this big plus point is that whilst the disease continues there will be a continuing need for the vaccine, unlike if it had been wiped out. This will bolster drug company profits to the max. Imagine having the rights to something that everyone on the planet will need every 24 months forever..

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