CORONAVIRUS – The richest countries in the world pledged a billion doses of anti-Covid vaccines to the poorest at the G7 summit. A volume very largely insufficient for the critics, who consider that the vaccine selfishness of the West is one of the main reasons for the shortage.
NGOs like Oxfam and Human Rights Watch, at the forefront of the fight for a more equitable distribution of vaccines, estimate that 11 billion doses are needed this year. This is also the volume that pharmaceutical industry groups say they can produce this year.
A quarter of the 2.295 billion doses administered worldwide to date have been administered to the G7 countries, which are home to only 10% of the world’s population. A gap described as “grotesque” by the boss of the World Health Organization (WHO) who sees it as “a catastrophic moral failure”.
The United States or the European Union have promised to vaccinate most of their population by the end of the summer, instead of limiting campaigns to what is strictly necessary. So many doses, in a context of shortage, which do not go to health workers and the most vulnerable people in less well-off countries.
These “low-income” countries, as defined by the World Bank, are content for the moment with 0.3% of the doses injected. Worldwide, 29.45 doses (first, second and third inclusive) have been administered per 100 inhabitants. But this figure hides strong disparities: 2.8 doses per 100 inhabitants in Africa, against 73 in the G7 countries.
The cry of alarm pushed by the WHO and NGOs, which warn against the risk of the appearance of much more dangerous variants if the whole world does not vaccinate together, has not been heard for a long time.
Last week, the Covax system was able to raise additional funds that will deliver 1.8 billion doses of vaccine for low-income countries. The vaccines, which will be delivered in 2021 and early 2022, will protect nearly 30% of the population in 91 poor countries. This corresponds to about half of the adult population in these countries, according to the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi). An additional country, India, will receive 20% of the total available doses.
Covax: instructions for use
This central system for global access to vaccination against Covid-19 was launched in June 2020 by the WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Innovations in Epidemic Preparedness (Cepi). It had to make it possible to avoid every man for himself and to guarantee an equitable distribution of vaccines while waiting to produce enough for everyone. Most importantly, the system has a funding mechanism that allows 92 low- and middle-income economies to access valuable doses.
As of June 8, Covax had delivered just over 81 million doses of vaccine to 129 participating countries and territories. This is far below its target, and the partners of the system have continued to call for donations to plug the holes. Covax was the victim, first of all, of the scramble of countries that could afford it on the limited quantities of vaccines available. The pressure of public opinion, once the first vaccines were authorized and had proved their effectiveness, got the better of the commitments made to show solidarity.
Then Covax was unlucky. The bulk of the device was based on AstraZeneca’s anti-Covid serum made in India by the Serum Institute of India. He was to provide several hundred million doses of it by the end of 2021 to Covax. But in the face of an explosion of the pandemic in the country, the Indian government has frozen exports to use the doses at home. The lifting of the ban is not expected for several months.
Produce more, but how?
There is no shortage of ideas for increasing vaccine production. The most debated is the proposal for the temporary lifting of patents that protect anti-Covid vaccines and other medical products to fight the pandemic.
Discussions at the World Trade Organization saw little headway this week after months of deadlock, but a deal – still hypothetical – will take months. According to its supporters, the waiver would stimulate production in developing countries.
Opponents want to remove obstacles to trade in ingredients and promote “compulsory licenses” provided for by WTO rules. For the pharmaceutical industry, adding manufacturers who are sometimes inexperienced at a time when ingredients are sometimes scarce, presents the risk of wasting precious resources.
The WHO this week asked manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines to make half of their dose production available to Covax this year.
And on June 1, the heads of the WHO, the WTO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank called on G7 leaders to contribute $ 50 billion for an anti-pandemic plan, which the IMF says must generate $ 9 trillion by 2025, enabling 40% of the world’s population to be vaccinated by the end of the year, and at least 60% by the end of 2022.
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