COVID-19 vaccine monopolies costing lives, reveals gulf between rich and poor

By Melissa Coade

Sunday June 6, 2021

(Image: Adobe/James Thew)

There have been over a million COVID-19 deaths in some of the world’s poorest nations since a G7 meeting four months ago when world leaders failed to waive intellectual property rules to lift vaccine access to developing countries.

According to an alliance of NGOs, including UNAIDS, Oxfam and the Health Justice Initiative, at the current rate of COVID-19 vaccines being administered in low income countries it will take 57 years for those populations to have the same level of protection that G7 countries will reach in January 2022.

The NGOs have calculated that 0.3% of total jabs administered worldwide have been provided in low-income countries.

Meanwhile, nations of the G7 including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States (which are comparable in population size to low-income nations) have received 28% of the world’s total COVID-19 vaccine doses to date.

The human cost to those countries without equivalent access to the vaccine has been eight deaths a minute, the NGOs say.

Fatima Hassan, Founder and Director of Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, said the death rate amounted to more than one million people who have perished since the G7 leaders met in February

She said that the decision by a few wealthy countries, in particular the UK and Germany, to block proposals to waive the patents on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines were to blame for the gross vaccine access disparity.

“Whatever pledges and promises the G7 make, they are still leaving pharmaceutical corporations to decide who lives and who dies, unless they back the ending of these COVID vaccine monopolies,” Hassan said.

“Just a few countries continue to block proposals to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments which would enable every qualified manufacturer in the world to produce vaccines instead of a handful of US and European pharma corporations,” she added. 

The NGOs are also concerned about the international scheme named COVAX, which was established to help developing nations access the COVID-19 vaccine. The program, which Australia has donated a total of $130 million to, has delivered a shortfall of more than a third of vaccine doses that should have been administered by the end of May 2021.

The NGO alliance claims the scheme has been a ‘massive failure’ and is forecast to have only vaccinated 10% of its intended target by the years’ end. 

Oxfam Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott described the situation as ‘obscene’ and called on G7 leaders to put their full support behind a proposed vaccine patent waiver at the World Trade Organisation. The waiver has already attracted support from 100 other nations.

“The sad fact is developing countries cannot depend on COVAX or the good will of the pharma industry to save the lives of their people,” Marriott said.

“The G7 may be getting the vaccines they need but too much of the world is not and people are paying for patent protection with their lives.”

The US is the only country in the G7 block to support the COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver. Canada, France and Japan have remained on the fence, while the UK and Germany have opposed the waiver.

Last month Pfizer told an Australian parliamentary joint committee that the proposed waiver “incorrectly portrays IP as a barrier to rapid innovation, R&D collaboration and access to Covid-19 vaccines and other products”.

The NGO alliance argues that the most ordinary citizens in the G7 support the idea of the patent waiver, with polling indicating that 70% of people believe governments ‘should ensure pharmaceutical companies share their formulas and technology, so that qualified manufacturers around the world can help increase the supply’. 

Dr Mohga Kamal-Yanni from The People Vaccine Alliance urged the G7 to get on board and also support efforts by the World Health Organisation to share vaccines technology, know-how and intellectual property. She added that every day of delay was a day when more lives could be saved.

“Last week the WHO relaunched its COVID-19 Technology Access Pool,” Dr Kamal-Yanni said.

“The G7 must show strong political support for the pool if they are serious about ending the pandemic. They must also announce funding to support technology transfer and manufacturing in developing countries.”

The alliance estimates that around the world 1.77 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were administered by June 3.

The 47th summit of the G7 group will be hosted by UK prime minister Boris Johnson in Cornwall from 11-13 June. 


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