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Rich Countries Hoarding Covid-19 Vaccines, Leaving Developing World Behind, Warns People's Vaccine Alliance

Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" are placed on dry ice in this illustration. (Reuters)

Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" are placed on dry ice in this illustration. (Reuters)

In Canada, enough doses have been purchased to immunise citizens five times over if all the leading vaccines are approved, the group said.

Rich countries have bought enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to immunize their populations three times over, an international vaccine watchdog has said, but developing countries are being left behind in the global sprint to end the coronavirus pandemic.

In 67 poorer nations, just one in 10 people can hope to receive a vaccine by the end of next year, the People’s Vaccine Alliance said on Wednesday.

But in the developed world, where a rush to secure vaccine supplies began in the first weeks and months of the pandemic, a surplus has been ordered; with nations representing just 14% of the world’s population owning more than half of the most promising vaccines.

The group urged pharmaceutical companies to share their technology and intellectual property with the World Health Organization, and called on governments to commit to sending vaccines to the developing world, in order to close the economic disparity between nations as they look to emerge from the devastating Covid-19 crisis.

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“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," said Anna Marriott, Health Policy Manager at Oxfam — one of the charities that makes up the People’s Vaccine Alliance, along with Amnesty International, Global Justice Now and others.

“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," she added.

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom became the first nation to start vaccinating its citizens with a fully vetted and authorized Covid-19 shot, marking a major milestone in a pandemic that brought the world to a standstill.

But 96% of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses that Britain has started administering have been bought by rich countries, the People’s Vaccine Alliance said. Similarly, every one of Moderna’s doses — another leading candidate whose trials have demonstrated a high rate of efficacy — have been acquired by wealthy countries.

In Canada, enough doses have been purchased to immunise citizens five times over if all the leading vaccines are approved, the group said.

‘We’re injecting hope’

Those prospects stand in stark contrast to the situation in the developing world.

In particular, the group identified 67 countries most at risk of being shut off from the pathway out of the pandemic. Five of them — Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ukraine — have reported more than 1.5 million combined cases.

“The hoarding of vaccines actively undermines global efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere can be protected from Covid-19," said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice. “By buying up the vast majority of the world’s vaccine supply, rich countries are in breach of their human rights obligations."

At least 172 countries have or are considering participating in COVAX, an initiative led by the World Health Organization that aims to provide worldwide access to effective Covid-19 vaccines, according to the body.

But a study by Duke University’s Global Health Institute last month found that only 250 million doses have been confirmed as purchased under the scheme.

The US Food and Drug Administration will meet Thursday to consider granting emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in the United States. If approved, the country could join the UK in administering doses in the coming days.

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first published:December 10, 2020, 07:23 IST