TWO-THIRDS OF COUNTRIES are yet to meet the target of vaccinating 70 per cent of people  against COVID-19 set a year ago at the UN General Assembly, according to new figures published by Oxfam and The People’s Vaccine Alliance.

The campaign groups said there had been a massive failure to deliver on the promise despite President Biden persuading world leaders to commit to meeting the World Health Organisation target.

They are calling for leaders to radically shift their approach for the current and future pandemics by prioritising sustainable, local manufacturing in all regions of the world to ensure developing countries get equal access to vaccines, tests, and treatments. They said the continued approach of leaving Big Pharma in charge of the response has prolonged the pandemic for all of us and continues to cause havoc the world cannot afford.

The death toll from Covid-19 is four times higher in lower-income countries, where less than half (48 per cent) of the population have had their full initial round of vaccinations. At the current rate, it will take almost two and a half years for 70 per cent of people in the poorest countries to be fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, rich countries are already beginning to roll out booster programmes and in some cases fifth shots, using the new generation vaccines, the majority of which have been ordered by rich nations.

At the same time, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are continuing to reap huge profits while refusing to work with the World Health Organisation to share their vaccine technology, despite it being funded by public money.

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said: “This massive failure to meet promises to protect the world from Covid-19 is indefensible. While the end of the pandemic should be in sight, hundreds of millions of people in developing countries are still unprotected from Covid-19. We are calling on President Biden and other world leaders not to turn their backs on them while the virus continues to kill and cause devastation to people’s livelihoods.

“It is time to radically redesign a system that puts pharma profits ahead of people’s lives. Developing countries need access to vaccines, tests, and treatments at the same time as rich countries, not years later after people have died. We are seeing the same deadly inequality for Covid-19 treatments and now for monkeypox vaccines, Governments must not allow this to continue.”

Lack of vaccination means the need for Covid-19 tests and treatments is even greater in poorer nations but inequality in access is even starker, yet rich nations are at this moment fiercely resisting any attempt to extend the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on vaccines to tests and treatments. Reports from the ACT (Access to Covid-19 Tools) Accelerator indicated that almost no doses of any outpatient antivirals are available in low-and middle-income countries.

The campaign groups said this persistent gap demonstrates the massive failings in the international response to Covid-19, which continually ignored the need to diversify manufacturing so that developing countries could make their own doses and manage their own supply concurrently with deliveries to rich countries. They are calling for leaders to:

  • Implement an immediate extension of the June 2022 WTO decision on Covid-19 vaccine patents to include tests and treatments – there can be no justification for delay.
  • Support and protect the World Health Organisation-led mRNA technology transfer hub, including demanding Moderna withdraw patents in South Africa and ensure the hub has freedom to develop Covid-19 and other life-saving vaccines now and into the future.
  • Deliver a Pandemic Treaty that delivers life-saving vaccines, tests, and treatments as global public goods, free of the monopoly control of pharmaceutical corporations.
  • Commit to an unprecedented scale-up of financing to strengthen country health systems in low and middle-income countries and global funding support to close the vaccination coverage gaps for low-and middle-income countries which have yet to hit the 70 per cent target.
  • Reject Big Pharma-led proposals – the so-called Berlin Declaration – which would leave full control of who lives and who dies in their hands.

A recent report found that a combination of unpredictable vaccine supplies, lack of antiviral treatments, and poor funding for health systems led to lower vaccination rates in developing countries, and that vaccine hesitancy was being used as an excuse to mask the international failures in the Covid-19 response.

Maaza Seyoum, Global South Convenor of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said: “Everyone everywhere should have access to the tools needed to fight a pandemic, but Covid-19 has been a case of survival of the richest. For most of this pandemic, big pharmaceutical companies left people in developing countries to die without vaccines and treatments while they sold doses to rich governments in the global north.

“Now, big pharma is trying to rewrite history, claiming that the industry will voluntarily ensure global access to medicines in the next pandemic. We know from Covid-19 that this isn’t true. Governments cannot rely on the goodwill of pandemic profiteers to do the right thing. We need to overhaul this system to put human life before private profit.”

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of over 100 organisations, has distributed posters across New York, host of the UN General Assembly, describing the Covid-19 pandemic as “survival of the richest”.

* More information in Mapping Covid-19 Access Gaps here.

* Source: Oxfam International