Currently, 16% of the global population have pre-ordered 70% of available COVID vaccines in 2021 – a group of virus experts now warn that COVID will keep evolving unless low income countries can access vaccines
When it comes to vaccine purchases, countries like the US and UK have pre-ordered enough to inoculate their populations and then some. Some argue that this is reasonable, given that some vaccines may not be manufactured as fast as others.
However, with COVID mutations like the Kent and South Africa variants, vaccine efficiencies are decreasing as the virus continues to evolve. This means that without the vaccine, some countries will go through several mutations while waiting to access the life-saving drug.
Currently the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination has covered one fifth of the UK population. What about South Africa, where the most feared variant originates?
The large majority of people there are still waiting for a vaccine plan. A people’s campaign, C19, is leading the charge to hold their Government to account and create a viable rollout for when vaccines eventually arrive.
Due to World Trade Organisation (WTO) restrictions via the TRIPS Agreement, the exact recipes of vaccines cannot be currently shared with manufacturers. This means that there is less supply available to buy, while South Africa struggles to maintain public health. Here, we get policy insight on what could be done differently to change this vaccine stasis.
Right now, the lowest prices drugmakers have given to any country is $5 to $62 per course. This is unaffordable for several low-income countries.
‘They must set affordable prices’
Co-author Professor Kenneth Shadlen from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, commented: “The extensive involvement of public funders in COVID-19 vaccine development provides an opportunity to make these vaccines globally available and affordable.
“Governments can insist that, as a condition of getting public funding, companies engage in sufficient licensing to enable widespread global production, and they must set affordable prices.”
The top five drugmakers have received between $957 million and $2.1 billion. These companies are still able to decide if they want to share their data and technology or not.
‘The world needs more doses of COVID-19’
The report is authored by seven leading experts in vaccines, health policy, and infectious disease, who are receiving no funding for this study.
Dr Olivier Wouters, lead author from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, explained: “Several manufacturers have successfully developed COVID-19 vaccines in under 12 months, an extraordinary achievement. But the stark reality is that the world now needs more doses of COVID-19 vaccines than any other vaccine in history in order to immunise enough people to achieve global vaccine immunity.
“Unless vaccines are distributed more equitably, it could be years before the coronavirus is brought under control at a global level. The questions now are when these vaccines will become available, and at what price.”
The authors argue that the WHO have created mechanisms for richer countries to help scale-up global production of the vaccine, such as COVAX. But sadly, member states have largely ignored this possibility or responded in a limited way.
Vaccine nationalism happening in high-income countries
Co-author Professor Mark Jit from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK, commented: “Securing large quantities of vaccines in this way amounts to countries placing widespread vaccination of their own populations ahead of the vaccination of health-care workers and high-risk populations in poorer countries.
“Based on known deals, governments in high-income countries representing 16% of the global population have secured at least 70% of doses available in 2021 from five leading vaccine candidates.”
The equality mechanism created by the WHO, COVAX, says it will need a further $6.8 billion in funding to fulfil its aim to secure 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, including 1 billion vaccine doses for 92 low-income countries.