Rich Countries Hoarding COVID Vaccines 'Means Poor People Will Miss Out'

Rich countries are hoarding doses of COVID vaccines meaning that 90 percent of the world's poorest will not be inoculated against the disease, a coalition of human rights groups has said.

The People's Vaccine Alliance says nearly 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people next year, while wealthy nations have bought enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over by the end of 2021 if all the vaccines currently in clinical trials are approved. It is calling for urgent action by governments and the pharmaceutical industry to make sure enough doses are produced.

The group of campaigning organizations, including Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam, used data collected by analytics company Airfinity to examine the deals done between countries and the eight leading vaccine candidates. It claims the data shows that rich nations representing just 14 percent of the world's population have bought up 53 percent of all the most promising vaccines so far.

Canada tops the chart, with enough doses to vaccinate each Canadian five times, the alliance said. They found that 67 low and lower-middle-income countries risk being left behind. Five of the 67 – Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ukraine - have reported nearly 1.5 million cases between them.

Oxford-AstraZeneca, which is developing its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis, has said it aims to provide 64 percent of its doses to people in developing nations and steps are being taken to ensure access to vaccines is fair around the globe. This vaccine commitment, known as Covax, has managed to secure 700 million doses of vaccines to be distributed between the 92 lower-income countries that have signed up.

But the alliance argues that even with the commitment in place, its analysis shows there is just not enough doses to go round, and drug companies should share their technology to make sure more are produced.

"The hoarding of vaccines actively undermines global efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere can be protected from COVID-19," Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International's head of economic and social justice said. "Rich countries have clear human rights obligations not only to refrain from actions that could harm access to vaccines elsewhere but also to cooperate and provide assistance to countries that need it.

"By buying up the vast majority of the world's vaccine supply, rich countries are in breach of their human rights obligations. Instead, by working with others to share knowledge and scale up supply, they could help bring an end to the global COVID-19 crisis."

The alliance is calling on all pharmaceutical corporations working on COVID-19 vaccines to openly share their technology and intellectual property so that billions of doses can be manufactured and made available to everyone who needs them.

This can be done through the World Health Organization COVID-19 technology access pool, it says.

Oxfam's health policy manager Anna Marriott said: "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. 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."

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from NHS Wales
A woman is given a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine in Cardiff, Wales, as the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to start administering it on Tuesday Matthew Horwood/Getty

The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper than the others and can be stored at fridge temperatures, making it easier to distribute across the globe. But campaigners say one company on its own cannot supply enough vaccines for the whole world.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has already received approval in the United Kingdom and the most vulnerable have begun being vaccinated this week. It is likely to receive approval from regulators in the United States and Europe soon, meaning it could be some time before the Pfizer vaccine is shared with poorer nations.

Another vaccine from Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are awaiting regulatory approval in a number of countries. The Russian vaccine, Sputnik, has also announced positive trial results, and four other vaccines are going through late-stage clinical trials. The People's Vaccine Alliance is campaigning for a "people's vaccine" which is free of charge to the public, fairly distributed and based on need.

Last month in the U.S., more than 100 leaders from public health, faith-based, racial justice, and labor organizations joined former members of Congress, economists and artists to sign a public letter calling on President-elect Joe Biden to support the people's vaccine, the alliance said.