Campaigners warn government against hoarding vaccines at expense of poorer countries

By agency reporter
July 30, 2020

Public health and social justice organisations have warned that the government’s latest deal to secure advanced supplies of potential COVID-19 vaccines for the UK will fuel the global scramble to hoard vaccines by rich countries. The government’s move to purchase 60 million doses of a potential vaccine from pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKlein and Sanofi for the UK, undermines global efforts to ensure fair and world-wide access to the vaccines. 
By locking in advanced deals with the pharmaceutical company, the government is contributing to a dangerous trend of vaccine nationalism by richer nations. The UK is racing ahead, along with the US and EU to secure doses of potential vaccines across different vaccine candidates.  These bilateral deals will reduce the initial global vaccine stocks available for vulnerable groups in poorer countries and undermine global efforts to ensure fair allocation.  
Heidi Chow, from Global Justice Now, said: “The government’s race to secure vaccine deals makes a mockery of its own rhetoric on equitable global access to COVid-19 vaccines. This UK-first approach is fuelling a dangerous scramble with rich countries hoarding initial vaccine supplies, leaving poorer countries without. Ensuring fair access is not just a matter of equity but it is the fastest way to end this global pandemic and the government should be supporting global fair allocation based on public health needs rather that trying to win a self-defeating race of who can hoard the fastest.”
Roz Scourse, of MSF Access Campaign, said: “The UK should refrain from pursuing these advance purchase deals with pharmaceutical corporations for COVID-19 vaccines. Given that there will be limited initial supplies of any successful COVID-19 vaccine, we need to ensure that priority populations such as healthcare workers around the world get access first. This 'Britain first' approach is blatant vaccine nationalism and completely undermines global coordination and collaboration efforts led by the World Health Organisation to ensure global equitable allocation. There frankly won’t be enough vaccine to go around at least initially – vaccines will need to be prioritised for those most at risk, not hoarded by individual countries.”

Diarmaid McDonald, from Just Treatment, said: “Instead of accelerating an arms race for access to COVID-19 tools by competing with other countries to get preferential access to potential vaccines, the UK should be taking a collaborative approach. This kind of COVID nationalism, combined with unjustifiable big pharma monopolies, puts lives at risk – including those of NHS patients and staff.
"The government must urgently change tact and support the WHO Covid Technology Pool so we can speed up collaborative research and prevent the supply and affordability issues that arise from monopolies on medicines. The government should be using its investments in COVID-19 vaccine research and development to make sure that everyone gets fair and affordable access to a vaccine, instead of sparking a race that patients will lose as big pharma profit.”
James Cole, from STOPAIDS added: “This is yet another example of wealthy countries pushing themselves to the front of the queue for vaccines. This nationalistic deal ignores the international collaboration and solidarity needed to ensure equitable access to vaccines and end the pandemic. A recent YouGov poll found the UK public overwhelmingly support equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Governments must put their focus on how to work with the World Health Organisation to avoid a future scenario in which there is starkly unequal access to a vaccine across the world and where healthcare workers in the poorest communities are left unprotected.”

Global Justice Now has launched a petition to Secretary of State Matt Hancock, calling on the UK government to ensure that any vaccine developed with public money is made affordable and available to all.

* Petition here

* Global Justice Now


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.