Rich countries hoarding vaccines could increase the global death rate

vaccine coronavirus rich poor countries
Jasmine Norden

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of “real danger” as it raises fears vaccines will not get to poorer countries.

At a WHO board meeting, director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was worried about the ability of the WHO’s vaccine initiative to provide the doses it aimed for.

Dr Tedros said:

As the first vaccines begin to be deployed, the promise of equitable access is at serious risk.

More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25.

I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.

So far, Guinea is the only low-income country to have administered any vaccines. It has provided only 25 doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine so far.

Providing equitable access

As soon as vaccines began to be developed for coronavirus (Covid-19), rich countries invested in doses, buying up large percentages of vaccines immediately.

Counteracting this, the WHO, the Centre for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and vaccine alliance Gavi set up Covax. The programme encourages rich countries to invest in Covax, which provides them with proportional access to Covax vaccines if others they have invested in fail. This investment allows Covax to purchase vaccine doses for 92 low-income countries who cannot afford them alone.

As of 18 January, Covax had secured two billion doses from five vaccine producers. It intends to begin delivering doses in February.

However, Dr Tedros said several member states had raised worries that high-income countries would not keep the promises they had made. He went on to say that at least 56 bilateral vaccine deals have been signed by countries that could jeopardise Covax’s effectiveness.

The impact

Analysis by Northeastern University predicted that rich countries buying up the first $2bn of vaccine doses could lead to almost double the amount of deaths.

According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, more than 90% of people across 67 low-income countries are unlikely to be vaccinated in 2021. The alliance, which includes Amnesty International, Oxfam, Global Justice Now, and Frontline AIDS, analysed the deals struck with governments for eight different vaccines.

It found that many high-income countries have ordered more vaccine doses than they require, while lower-income countries do not have enough. For example, the alliance found that Canada had originally ordered enough vaccine doses for five per citizen.

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s health policy manager, said:

Unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for covid-19 for years to come.

Improving access

The alliance is calling on vaccine developers to allow WHO to access their intellectual property so vaccines can be mass produced more quickly.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, told The Canary patents on vaccines must be removed so companies cannot monopolise vaccine supplies and “artificially limit supply”.

Dearden said:

We need to urgently share the technology and allow all who can manufacture these vaccines to do so immediately, helping build manufacturing capacity where it doesn’t exist. To fail to do that – as government like ours have done up to now – is to put corporate profits ahead of saving lives. Given these vaccines have been produced with substantial amounts of public money, that’s scandalous.

He added:

Even beyond Covid, people are dying unnecessarily of diseases which we should be able to cure, if research was focussed on healthcare needs, rather than returns to shareholders. We have an NHS which puts patient need ahead of how much wealth they have. We need to replicate these values internationally. Life and death [matters] like this cannot be left to the market.

Featured image via Pexels/

We need your help ...

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.

Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.

We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.

Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?

The Canary Support us