More must be done, immediately, to ensure lower-income countries have faster access to Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostic tools and treatments.
By mid-January, more than seven billion Covid-19 vaccine doses had been purchased globally, with 4.2-billion doses having gone to high-income countries. While high-income countries represent only 16% of the world’s population, they currently hold 60% of the vaccines for COVID-19 that have been purchased so far, according to research by Duke University.1
Meanwhile, there are just 300-million Covid-19 vaccine doses allocated to the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) facility, which is aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for all countries, irrespective of economic power.
Covid-19 has done great damage. It has killed 2.5-million people, and devastated many more lives through the loss of loved ones, and through the loss of livelihoods. At current rates of inoculation it is estimated it will take seven years to vaccinate 75% of the global population and reach the herd immunity the world so desperately needs.
We cannot wait that long. This is not a time for selfishness, this is a time for access, equity and solidarity.
The mismatch between the vaccine stocks held by higher-income countries and that of lower income countries is one of the reasons for the growing calls for World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries to agree to waive, for the pandemic’s duration, the intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostic tools and treatments.
Proponents of this argument, including the African Union, say that the waiver would allow countries in the developing world to quickly manufacture the health tools they need to combat Covid-19. This would also build scientific and manufacturing capacity in these countries.
It is opposed by the European Union and several high-income countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, the US, Canada and Norway, all of which argue that without IP protection pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to come up with new vaccines, diagnostic tools, and treatments.
These talks are important, and there is precedent for a waiver: In 2001, WTO countries reached a landmark agreement by passing the Doha Declaration, which allowed member states to seek compulsory licensing when faced with extreme emergencies.
However, new WTO secretary-general, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has warned that time is of the essence and proposed that, while talks on the waiver continue, the world focuses on the immediate needs of dozens of poor countries that have yet to vaccinate a single person.
“People are dying in poor countries,” she said. This, we believe, is the crux of the matter.