The Future is Equal

Governments falling woefully short on goal to vaccinate 70 percent in each country by September

Vaccine Access Still a Concern as President Biden Hosts Second COVID Summit

World leaders have not done enough to achieve their goal of vaccinating 70 percent of people in each country by September, campaigners with the People’s Vaccine Alliance warned ahead of the second virtual summit on COVID-19 hosted by US President Biden along with Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal. The World Health Organization’s target of reaching 70 percent by mid-year is even further out of reach.

More than a year after vaccines were introduced, only 52 countries have met the 70 percent vaccination target so far, 69 have yet to achieve 40 percent coverage, and 21 countries have not yet achieved even 10 percent coverage. While more than 11 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, only 11 percent of people in low-income countries are vaccinated, compared with 73 percent of those in high-income countries, as of last month. At the current rate, it will take another two and a half years for low-income countries to be able to vaccinate 70 percent of their populations with an initial two doses.

Campaigners said progress had been too slow since the first COVID-19 summit in September last year and called on governments to do more to ensure doses are getting to people in countries behind target. Too many still haven’t received enough supply, have had unpredictable access, and have faced other challenges delivering doses to people in need. Campaigners have also called for urgent action to redress the spiraling COVID-19 treatment access divide caused by the same rich country hoarding and profit-driven Big Pharma business model that excludes people living in poverty throughout the world.   

Julia Kosgei, Policy Advisor to the People’s Vaccine Alliance said: “The donation model has failed to deliver vaccines, has thwarted effective vaccine roll out plans, and is completely unsustainable. More than two years into the pandemic, millions have yet to have the initial doses needed to protect them from this deadly disease.”

“How is it that my elderly grandma in rural Kenya is still unprotected from COVID, yet pharmaceutical companies are hitting unheard of profits and say the world is ‘swimming’ in doses? These corporations have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not willing to do the right thing for humanity. Governments must step in and ensure everyone; everywhere has the vaccines they need.”

The Alliance, a coalition of over 90 organizations including the African Alliance, Oxfam, and UNAIDS says that transferring technology to boost local manufacturing will help address ongoing concerns including on-the-ground distribution challenges, vaccine hesitancy, and an overall shortfall in doses.

For the past year and a half, countries have been discussing a widely supported waiver of intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines (so-called TRIPS waiver) at the World Trade Organization (WTO), which would remove barriers to developing countries being able to produce their own doses of COVID-19 medical tools.

Despite President Biden’s declared backing of the waiver for vaccines, there has been little progress. In fact, the initiative is still being blocked by the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Instead, the EU has backed an alternative proposal, which is not a waiver and would not deliver the goals of the original proposal by excluding testing and treatments, leaving out many countries. Worse, it adds even more barriers to countries hoping to produce generic versions of the vaccines.

The Alliance is calling on President Biden to use his influence to ensure all world leaders back the full TRIPS waiver not only for vaccines, but also for test and treatments to give countries the protection and dignity of being able to produce COVID-19 medical tools themselves, rather than relying on a handful of Western pharmaceutical companies. The Alliance is also calling on increased funding for manufacturing and vaccine delivery.

Meanwhile, more than 100 qualified manufacturers in Asia, Africa and Latin America could be producing doses of the mRNA COVID vaccines, but this capacity is going unused without the cooperation and technology transfer from Pfizer, Moderna and BioNTech. At the Annual General Meetings of Pfizer and Moderna, the companies opposed shareholder proposals by Oxfam for each to study the feasibility of transferring vaccine technology to qualified manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries.

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said: “At this second COVID Summit, we should be acting urgently on the key thing low- and middle-income countries are asking for: the ability to make their own vaccines for their own people.”

“The unwillingness to share the vaccine technology and funding shortfalls are stunting our global response to COVID-19. Governments, including the US, must step up funding for immediate vaccine roll out and for the mRNA hub and the manufacturing capacity needed to build a production network in the global South. This would reduce dependence on a failing charity model and allow the world to pull out of this pandemic once and for all.”

The Alliance also says the scale of the pandemic in developing nations has been massively underestimated due to the lack of testing available. Last week the World Health Organization estimated the true global death toll from the COVID pandemic to be almost 15 million lives lost, with a death toll in lower income countries four times higher than in high income countries.

Marriott continued: “Voluntary measures from companies have delivered wild profits but also persistent vaccine inequity, new waves and new variants, unreliable and insufficient donations, and billions of people still waiting for their tests, treatments and vaccines.”

“Enough is enough. It’s time for governments to take bolder action to put people before profits.”