90% in poor countries will miss Covid vaccinations

The introduction of vaccines against the coronavirus have been described as the light at the end of the tunnel. But for most of the poorest people in poor countries, there is no chance to get inoculated in 2021.

Only one out of 10 people in nearly 70 countries will be able to get Covid-19 vaccine in the next year unless an urgent action is taken by governments and pharmaceutical industries to produce enough doses, campaigning organisations have warned.

Indeed, Nepal has yet to make any concrete deals, and is far behind many countries that have paid advance money to ensure future supplies. Belatedly, the government last month set up a committee of secretaries of the Finance, Home, Health and Foreign Affairs ministries to study vaccines under development as procurement procedures. Experts say it will take upwards of six months for the vaccines to get to Nepal and ever longer to remote parts of the country.

By contrast, wealthier countries have hoarded enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations three times over by the end of 2021 if all the shots currently in clinical trials are approved, whilst poor countries don’t even have enough to even reach health workers and people at risk. Canada tops the chart with enough doses to vaccinate each Canadian five times.

Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam, which are part of The People’s Vaccine Alliance, used data collected by analytics company Airfinity to analyse the vaccine deals.

They found that 67 low and lower middle-income countries risk being left behind. Rich nations represent just 14% of the world’s population but have bought up 53% of all the most promising vaccines so far. Five of the 67 countries – Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ukraine -- have alone reported nearly 1.5 million Covid-19 cases between them.

“No one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket. But 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” says Anna Marriott of Oxfam.

Adds Heidi Chow of Global Justice Now: “All pharmaceutical corporations and research institutions working on a vaccine must share the science, technological know-how, and intellectual property behind their vaccine so enough safe and effective doses can be produced. Governments must also ensure the pharmaceutical industry puts people’s lives before profits.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine started being administered in the UK this week, and is likely to receive approval within days from the US. Moderna and Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca are expected to submit or are awaiting regulatory approval. The Russian vaccine, Sputnik, has announced positive trial results and four other candidates are in phase 3 clinical trials.

All of Moderna’s doses and 96% of Pfizer/BioNTech’s have been acquired by rich countries. In welcome contrast Oxford/AstraZeneca has pledged to provide 64% of their doses to people in developing nations. But they can still only reach 18 % of the world’s population next year at most.

Oxford/AstraZeneca deals have also mostly been made with some of the big developing countries like China and India, while the majority of developing countries have not done deals and have to share the COVAX pool of vaccines between them.

As one company alone cannot supply vaccine for all and bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, collaboration is mandatory. As such the People’s Vaccine Alliance has called on all pharmaceutical corporations to share their technology and intellectual property through the World Health Organization (WHO) Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, so that billions more doses can be manufactured and safe and effective vaccines can be available to all who need them free of charge.

A first step would be to support South Africa and India’s proposal to the World Trade Organisation Council this week to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments until everyone is protected.

“The hoarding of vaccines actively undermines global efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere can be protected from Covid-19. Rich countries have clear human rights obligations not only to refrain from actions that could harm access to vaccines elsewhere, but also to cooperate and provide assistance to countries that need it,” says Steve Cockburn of Amnesty International.

The vaccines developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have received more than $5 billion dollars of public funding, which places a responsibility on them to act in the global public interest. Pharmaceutical using government funding for research, retaining exclusive rights and keep their technology secret to boost profits could cost many lives, stress experts.

Says Lois Chingandu of Frontline AIDS: “The global economy will continue to suffer so long as much of the world does not have access to a vaccine. We need to put pharmaceutical industry profit aside during this unprecedented pandemic, both to save humanity and the economy.”

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