US President Joe Biden’s pledge to send 500 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to developing countries has been welcomed but also declared insufficient to fill the need, amid calls to open up vaccine production rights.
On Wednesday, President Biden pledged to make the US an “arsenal” against the pandemic, promising to send doses of Pfizer vaccine to developing countries and pumping more than $1.1 billion towards the Covax facility and other distribution logistics.
But organisations fighting for vaccine equity say more needs to be done, especially when it comes to the pace of vaccine production.
“While we commend President Biden for rallying world leaders to commit to vaccinate 70 per cent of the world by this time next year, we have yet to see an effective plan to meet this goal,” said Abby Maxman, president and CEO of Oxfam International.
“While every additional life-saving vaccine dose is welcome, the 500 million additional doses President Biden just committed are still a drop in the ocean compared with the urgent need across the world,’’ added Mr Maxman. President Biden convened a virtual summit on Covid-19, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 76th Session in New York this past week. The session, although on climate change, every leader who addressed it said Covid-19 was the immediate challenge.
“America will become the arsenal of vaccines, as we were the arsenal for democracy during World War II,” he said referring to the US’s role in helping rebuilding countries, especially in Europe, after the World War II.
“For every one shot we've administered in America; we have committed three shots to the rest of the world,” he said to a virtual audience that includes government policy makers, leaders and corporate chiefs in the pharmaceutical world,’’ said Biden. But African leaders at the Summit led by South African President Cyril called for a waiver of intellectual property rights on vaccine production. South Africa has been vocal on having rights to vaccine production, insisting that the world had already missed the WHO targets on vaccination.
“The gulf is widening between better-resourced nations who are buying up and even hoarding vaccines and developing countries who are struggling to have access to vaccines. Whilst we welcome the donations and sharing of vaccines to developing countries. We however reiterate our proposal that developing countries should be enabled to manufacture their own vaccine as well as to procure them directly,” he told the summit.
South Africa and India have pushed for special allowance under the World Trade Organisation Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a treaty that manages copyright, trademarks and patents for manufacturers. They proposed that developing countries be given a special permission under emergency circumstances to produce vaccines. The motion was defeated twice.
Africa’s grouse is that while more than 5.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, seven in 10 doses have been given to people in the 10 richest countries in the world, UN figures show.
Of that, only 3 percent of Africans have been vaccinated. The US, alongside other Group of 7 (G20) had pledged at least one billion doses to be distributed by end of this year. Leaders say that is insufficient.
“We must put equitable vaccine access at the core of building back better from this Covid-19. We need to provide tangible financial support to developing countries and ensure that a significant portion of green manufacturing is located in developing countries,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said in his recorded address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.
The G7 promise to distribute vaccines has also been met with incessant delays caused by hoarding.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres suggested the Big Pharma was profiting from public funds without ensuring the public actually gets the vaccines, making their production a lucrative $100 billion industry.
“This is not only disappointing. It is baffling,” he told the virtual meeting. “Global vaccination is not philanthropy; it is self-interest. The larger the pool of unvaccinated people, the more the virus will keep circulating and evolving into new variants, and the greater the economic and social disruption.”
The world had promised to distribute at least 2.3 billion doses through the COVAX facility before December, enough to vaccinate at least 40 percent of the 7 billion people across the globe, as planned by the World Health Organisation.
The US, like most developed nations, has come under sharp criticism for opting to give booster shots, hence preventing other countries from accessing the jabs even when they had the money to buy them.
Addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday, Biden had said his country had pumped more than $15 billion towards global Covid-19 response and will continue to do so in future.
He said US was also working with partners across the world to improved local vaccine manufacturing and that India and South Africa will be crucial next year.