An anti-poverty advocacy group has flagged COVID-19 vaccine stockpiling by high-income countries in a new report.
An analysis by the ONE Campaign, a movement which seeks to end poverty and preventable disease by 2030, said a cohort of wealthy nations had stockpiled more than a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses than required. The report examined contracts with five leading manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines – AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer and BioNTech. It found that Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States had secured through deals more than three billion vaccine doses, despite only needing 2.06 billion to fully vaccinate their populations.
The report’s findings, according to the ONE Campaign’s senior director for policy Jenny Ottenhoff, represents “huge excess” and “the embodiment of vaccine nationalism.” Ottenhoff acknowledged that “rich countries understandably hedged their bets on vaccines early in the pandemic but with these bets paying off in spades, a massive course correction is needed if we are going to protect billions of people around the world.”
Vaccine nationalism engendering vaccine stockpiling has been called out repeatedly in recent months, as the global race to develop vaccines against the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19 has yielded results and countries – including India – have commenced campaigns to inoculate their populations. However, there are striking global disparities in access to COVID-19 vaccines at the detriment of countries at lower levels of economic development.
Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned that “progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair. Just ten countries have administered 75 percent of all COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose. Those affected by conflict and insecurity are at particular risk of being left behind.”
Prior to Guterres’s remarks, the incoming World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted that “no one is safe until everyone is safe. Vaccine nationalism at this time just will not pay, because the variants are coming. If other countries are not immunised, it will just be a blow back.”
The COVAX facility, designed to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines for low- and middle-income nations, has inked deals to procure 2.27 billion doses this year and aims to deliver doses to at least twenty percent of the populations of the world’s most impoverished countries. India is a key player, being home to the Serum Institute of India – the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. India’s seeming embrace of vaccine diplomacy is manifest in recent developments which have witnessed large-scale distribution to other countries. As reported by Health Issues India earlier this week
“Last month, the country commenced exports of COVID-19 vaccines. As of the second week of February, the country had exported more than 1.6 crore vaccine doses to twenty countries of which 37 percent were grants. The remaining 63 percent of doses shipped overseas were sales. The countries to have received vaccine exports from India include Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Brazil, Dominica, Egypt, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.”
Vaccine stockpiling engendering a surplus in wealthy nations could fortify COVAX initiatives if surplus vaccines are donated, the ONE Campaign report suggests. Countries including France and the United Kingdom are onboard with such a notion. French president Emmanuel Macron proposed wealthier countries dedicate up to five percent of their vaccine reserves to Africa, where vaccine supplies are lacking. British prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to pledge donations of the UK’s surplus vaccine supply to low-income nations at today’s G7 summit. COVAX is also the beneficiary of a US$4 billion donation from the U.S. government. Ultimately, we are not safe until we are all safe. COVID-19 does not discriminate and does not respect borders. As such, when it comes to protection via vaccination, universalism and by extension cooperation is the need of the hour.