Nine out of 10 people in 70 low-income countries are unlikely to be vaccinated against Covid-19 next year because the majority of the most promising vaccines to come have been purchased by the West, activists said.
As the first people get vaccinated in the UK, the People’s Vaccine Alliance warns that deals made by governments in rich countries will leave the poor at the mercy of the raging virus. Rich countries with 14% of the world’s population have obtained 53% of the most promising vaccines.
Canada has bought more doses per capita than any other – enough to immunize every Canadian five times, said the alliance, which includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam.
“No one should be prevented from getting the vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket,” said Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s health policy manager.
“But unless something drastically changes, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine against Covid-19 in the years to come.”
Supplies of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, approved in the UK last week, will almost all go to wealthy countries – 96% of doses have been bought by the West. The Moderna vaccine uses similar technology, which is also said to be 95% effective, and is intended exclusively for wealthy countries. The prices of both vaccines are high and access for low-income countries will be complicated by the extremely low temperatures at which they must be stored.
In contrast, the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, which is 70% effective, is stable at normal refrigerator temperatures and the price has been set deliberately low for global access. Manufacturers said 64% of doses would go to people in developing countries. Campaigners applaud this commitment, but say one company cannot supply the whole world. At most Oxford / AstraZeneca may reach 18% of the world’s population next year.
The alliance used data from science-based information and analysis company Airfinity to analyze global agreements with the top eight vaccine candidates. They found that 67 low- and lower-middle-income countries are at risk of being left behind as rich countries move towards their escape from the pandemic. Five of the 67 – Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ukraine – have reported nearly 1.5 million cases between them.
Campaigners want Covid vaccine makers to share their technology and intellectual property through the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 technology access pool. This would make it possible to manufacture billions of additional doses at low cost for developing countries. AstraZeneca / Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech have received more than $ 5 billion in public funding to develop their vaccines, they said, which means they have a responsibility to act in the global public interest.
“Rich countries have enough doses to immunize everyone almost three times, while poor countries don’t even have enough to reach health workers and people at risk,” said Dr Mohga Kamal Yanni , from the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
“The current system, in which pharmaceutical companies use public funds for research, retain exclusive rights and keep their technology a secret to increase their profits, could cost many lives.”
Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said: “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 any action that might hinder access to vaccines elsewhere, but also to cooperate and provide assistance to countries in need.