Governments of predominantly wealthy countries are negotiating to buy nearly 8.8 billion doses of potential Covid-19 vaccines in a “deal frenzy” that could mean many poor countries would not have access to immunizations until. at least 2024, according to a report.
None of the more than 320 potential vaccines in development have been approved for use, but countries have already made advance purchase agreements for 3.73 billion doses of the most promising candidates, with negotiations underway. for 5 billion additional doses, according to the study by Duke University’s Global Health Innovation center calculated.
However, manufacturers will only be able to produce a large portion of the successful candidates, with researchers estimating that it would take three to four years to deliver enough vaccine to immunize the world’s population. This means that many rich countries may be able to immunize their entire population several times before most people in low-income countries are vaccinated, according to the report.
“Countries are acting in their own interests, which makes sense,” said Andrea Taylor, deputy director at the Duke Center. “The problem that this brings about is a pattern of behavior on a global scale where we are limited in how many doses we can produce in the first year or two… And so many are taken off the market and ripped off and reserved. to high-income countries, potentially leaving very little for low- and middle-income countries. “
The World Health Organization has overseen the creation of a program called Covax in which signatory countries can access an equal share of successful vaccine candidates – first for health and safety officers and ultimately for a minimum of 20% of their populations.
But many wealthy countries invested in installing Covax and made their own deals directly with drug companies, Taylor said, narrowing the pool of doses that would be fairly distributed. “They give with one hand and take with the other,” Taylor said.
Ethiopia, for example, will receive enough doses of effective vaccines to cover 20% of its population on Covax, but has no other side deals, meaning most of its citizens may not be vaccinated for decades. years after UK residents were vaccinated.
Another problem facing poorer countries is that some lack the cold chain supply infrastructure and therefore will not be able to access candidate vaccines that must be stored at freezing temperatures, or others that should be stored at high temperature.
The first hundreds of millions of doses of a Johnson & Johnson candidate that can be stored for several months at normal refrigerator temperatures – facilitating its deployment in poorer countries – have already been purchased in large numbers by the United States, the UK, the EU and Canada, the report said.
The study confirmed that Covax has so far purchased enough vaccine to immunize around 250 million people – well below the 1.14 billion people it has pledged to cover.
Australia, which has agreed to purchase more than 80 million doses of potential vaccines, is so far one of the few wealthy countries to commit to sharing its supply, in this case with smaller neighboring countries. , such as Vanuatu and Fiji.
Taylor said the report was intended as a warning and the situation could be alleviated if manufacturing capacity improved significantly or if wealthy countries agreed to make their excess supplies available through the Covax facility.
Public health experts have said the pandemic could be unnecessarily prolonged by “vaccine nationalism”, as countries rack up their supplies or place export controls on critical equipment or ingredients.