“No-one is safe until everyone is safe”: global vaccine rollout and equality

Covid vaccine
Image credit: The Focal Project on Wunderstock (license)

In Tuesday’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus the evidence session talked to experts about access to coronavirus vaccines across the globe.

Where are we in terms of the pandemic and equitable vaccine access?

Dr David Nabarro, Special Envoy of WHO Director-General on Covid-19 said:

“We are still deep in the pandemic. We are not remotely close to the end.”

He went on to comment on the effect of Covid-19 on poor people and nations.

“Poor nations struggle with bad health services.

“We cannot vaccinate a population out of an active pandemic. It has never been done before. Any government that says we can is taking a huge gamble on lives of people.”  

He expressed that we need a combination approach and that everyone should be encouraged to do everything to avoid infection:

“The purpose of the vaccine is to protect those at greatest risk.”

Dr Ayoade Alakija, a physician and co-chair of the Africa Union Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance for Covid-19 and Nigeria’s former Chief Humanitarian Coordinator said:

“We don’t understand this virus. There is a race between virus variants and the vaccine. Until we vaccinate the world the virus is bettering us and is in upsurge all over the world.”

Katherine DeLand, Special Advisor in the Office of the Executive Director, Outbreaks and Health Emergencies and in the Office of the Director-General at WHO said:

“We’ve only known this virus for two years. We still have so much to learn.”

“There are consequences of the ‘vaccinate your way out’ policy. Under this policy populations are getting used to going about life as it used to be. It will be very difficult if measures need to be re-established in future outbreaks. As another variant may emerge that might break through the vaccine this is a real worry. Indeed now there is a modification of the Delta variant.”

Why is there such a vaccine gap?

Ayoade told the panel that in Africa just 1 in 20 have been vaccinated:

“Political decision has been made because of mass hysteria – [in some countries] some have even had four vaccines. We are in an era of populism and nationalism and vaccine nationalism is what has taken over. The reason we have not vaccinated the world is selfishness.

“World leaders have no global coordinated effort to vaccinate the world. If you don’t vaccinate people in Africa, the virus will mutate.

“People say there are delays in vaccinations – balderdash. The vaccinations are not the problem. In Africa we can vaccinate, we have done may times before. There is no coordinated effort from the world to provide the vaccines.

“Nigeria, 5, 6, 8 weeks ago was vaccinating 120,00 people per day and then received the short shelf life vaccine donated by the UK government because they needed to be seen to be donating the vaccine before the COP26 meeting. Because of that the vaccine roll out coming from America, 4.1 million doses, had to be halted because we didn’t want to waste the AstraZeneca which had less than a month to go on them. The Moderna vaccine was stopped as there had to be a change in strategy.

“It is not just the UK doing this. Let ministers [from different countries] get together and decide not to just dump vaccines whenever they like. Let us work in concert, let’s have a coordinated [effort].

“This is why vaccines are not getting to the world in a timely manner.“

Is there a vaccine shortage?

How much difference would a TRIPS waiver, sharing intellectual property so we could increase global production make?

Ayoade said the infrastructure has to be ramped up and support is needed:

“We need to get vaccines from ports to arms; the problem is supply.”

The importance of a TRIPS waiver and local development was stressed. This would open up global production. Given the challenges of imposing compulsory licences and the limits of voluntary ones, the TRIPS waiver offers another way for vaccine producers around the world to ramp up global production without the risks of contending with domestic and international IP disputes.

Ayoade said that in Africa only 1% of vaccines are produced on the continent at present.

David Nabarro said that for nations like Africa the problem was predictability and dependency of supply of vaccine. He said that countries could ramp up the supply of vaccines.

Anna Marriott, Health Policy Adviser for Oxfam specialising in universal health care provision in low-income countries said:

“Pharmaceutical companies have been given free licence to maximize profits.

“And of course, now AstraZeneca have changed to a ‘for profit’ model. This needs to change; pharmacological monopolies need to be broken and poorer countries need to be able to make their own supplies. Currently high income countries purchase the majority of the supplies.”

Dr. Nicaise Ndembi, the Chief Science Advisor to the Africa CDC Director who leads the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) in Africa said:

”No one is safe until everyone is safe. It has to be time for a global response to the pandemic.” A TRIPS Covid-19 waiver opens up global production. Given the challenges of imposing compulsory licenses and the limits of voluntary ones, the TRIPS waiver offers another way for vaccine producers around the world to ramp up global production without the risks of contending with domestic and international IP disputes.

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