Rich countries buying most of the world's vaccine supply has left the rest 'scrambling for supplies,' campaigners say
The CEO of long-term care facility The New Jewish Home in New York will receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine on December 21, 2020. BRYAN R. SMITH / AFP via Getty Images
Wealthier countries like the US and UK have cleaned up global supplies of coronavirus vaccines so many nations have no access to doses at all.
The rich countries have reserved more doses than their populations need, while the lower-income countries rely on a United Nations-backed acquisition program that may be difficult to implement.
Major NGO activists told insiders that unequal access to vaccines will deepen poverty and inequality, and ultimately harm rich nations as well.
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The success of rich countries in purchasing most of their vaccine supplies has led the rest of the world to "search for supplies" to protect their people, activists say.
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The richest countries in the world have reserved enough vaccines to allow multiple injections of their populations and have started giving shots.
The oversupply is a result of countries buying several types of vaccines before it was clear which would work.
If, as expected, most of the lead candidates are admitted, they will have a lot more than they need.
Meanwhile, the poorer countries are at the back of the line and may have to wait years for mass vaccination.
Researchers and activists say the difference will be big: an estimate from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says 51% of vaccine doses were reserved by countries representing less than 15% of the world's population.
Covid-19 vaccinations will take place on December 22nd, 2020 in York, England. Ian Forsyth / Getty Images
Roz Scourse, a policy advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, told Insider: "I think the worst scenario, to be honest, is that we will continue to see people in low and middle income countries, which for many Years die of COVID when effective vaccines and treatments are available.
"In my opinion, there is no greater inequality than dying of something knowing that there is a treatment or a vaccine for it somewhere."
She said the current situation means much of the world is "looking for supplies".
Researchers from leading charities told insiders they fear the scenario is about to materialize.
Anna Marriott, Oxfam's health policy manager, said countries are "caught up in this deadly mix of inadequate vaccine supplies coupled with inequality of vaccine solvency - with insufficient supplies and the supplies that we mainly do." buy from rich countries. " . "
People shop at a market in Accra, Ghana during the coronavirus pandemic on December 21, 2020. The People's Vaccine Alliance identified Ghana as a country likely to struggle to vaccinate its people.
"Now, I think, it is mainly because of their purchasing power that these countries have managed to jump to the top of the queue."
The warnings were strong. Some experts warn that low-income countries may have to wait years - perhaps until 2024 - before getting enough vaccines for most of their populations.
Steve Cockburn, director of economic and social justice at Amnesty International, told Insider, "Rich countries have acted quickly to buy up all the vaccines that could possibly be made and their financial resources have enabled them to use most of the Pre-order worldwide vaccine. " Deliveries so that little is left for other countries. "
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be administered on December 21, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Karen Ducey / Getty Images
Charities like Amnesty and Oxfam founded the People's Vaccine Alliance to promote equal access to vaccines.
It is a warning that 67 countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people over the next year, even considering ongoing efforts to distribute vaccine supplies.
And the activists warn that these countries are already suffering.
Oxfam-based Marriott said, "The impact of the coronavirus on poorer nations has been catastrophic. We know that for the first time in over 20 years, poverty is rising and hunger is skyrocketing.
"Unlike in developed countries, we are seeing large numbers of people in developing countries who have neither government nor public funding to deal with the effects of this pandemic."
The worst people in the world suffer the most
Rich nations have hedged their bets when buying vaccines: there was no clear indication of which vaccines would be approved in which order.
This prompted officials to place orders with several vaccine manufacturers - a situation where they will receive an excess of doses if all of the vaccines they buy are approved.
How exactly countries like the United States and Britain managed to secure their supplies is unclear, but prosperity and political factors such as the vaccines developed in these countries played an important role.
But it is people who are already suffering from health and political crises who are likely to find it hardest to get vaccines.
Activists pointed insiders to countries like Myanmar, where refugees are fleeing targeted violence in the country. and Nigeria, which is already facing a food crisis.
Rohingya refugees gather behind a barbed wire fence in a temporary settlement in a border zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh in April 2018.
Particularly vulnerable groups are affected there, including those in refugee camps or affected by armed violence.
Cockburn said, "If urgent action is not taken, the people most at risk could be the last to receive the vaccine."
"If rich countries keep hoarding vaccines and drug companies fail to share their technology, these countries could be forced into even more debt and global poverty will deepen significantly."
The equal access system is failing
There are some programs in place to balance vaccine access. This includes Covax, the WHO-supported global effort to reach people in lower-income countries. Many countries, if not the US, have donated for it.
However, Reuters reports that there is a lack of funds and structural problems. Internal documents state that there is a high risk that the vaccine search will fail.
Doctors Without Borders' Scourse says wealthy countries are relying on Covax as a patch-up solution to help them avoid offering further assistance and to justify their own self-preservation efforts.
"This is the position we keep hearing from the UK government: since Covax exists, there is basically no need to do anything else."
She noted that even when wealthy countries donate to Covax, "the money doesn't help if there are no cans to buy" because wealthy countries have bought so much of what is available.
Canada has bought enough vaccines to vaccinate its residents six times, provided all those doses are approved and dispensed, according to an analysis by the New York Times.
A nurse will be vaccinated with the Pfizer / BioNTEch coronavirus vaccine on December 14, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. REUTERS / Carlos Osorio
The analysis found that the US bought enough to vaccinate residents four times, the EU bought enough to do it twice, and the UK bought enough to do it four times.
Canada has pledged to donate excess supplies to other countries at some point.
But Marriott said it was "hideous to claim that the right to health of people in developing countries depends on the distribution of surplus vaccines".
Activists see solutions
The activists say vaccine manufacturers must publish their research and give up the exclusive ability to make the vaccines.
This would allow other companies to manufacture the same vaccines and expand supply worldwide.
They noted that the vaccines were developed with public funds and said companies should commit to fair prices so more countries can afford them.
They said that it is also in the direct interests of richer countries to ensure that the rest of the world is vaccinated, as this would boost global trade and production and prevent the virus from spreading rapidly for years - which it does could allow it to mutate into something that current vaccines don't protect against.
Marriott said, "Nobody is safe until everyone is safe. As long as the virus is allowed to persist in developing countries, the public health risk in rich countries will remain."
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