On the eve of President Biden’s global COVID summit on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly, campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance are calling for world leaders to go beyond empty promises of charity and deliver bold action to increase manufacturing and access to COVID vaccines around the world.
The Alliance, which is a coalition of more than 75 organizations around the world united under a common aim of campaigning for a people’s vaccine for COVID-19, says President Biden’s ambitious goal to vaccinate 70 percent of the world by this time next year will not be met with the trickle of charity currently on offer from rich countries.
“World leaders have made big promises to vaccinate the world, yet they have failed to deliver on all promises. Instead, they allowed pharmaceutical companies to deprioritise poor countries in vaccine allocation. That’s why we have vaccine apartheid,” said Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS. “We need a new paradigm that rests on sharing the technology and know-how of vaccine manufacturing around the world, we need action, not promises.”
The Alliance called on President Biden and other Summit participants to work to end existing vaccine monopolies, waive intellectual property rules, mandate the sharing of vaccine technologies and know-how, invest in manufacturing capacity in developing countries as well as in research and development, and reallocate existing vaccine doses as soon as possible.
“We are at a crucial point in this pandemic. While rich countries have administered 80 per cent of global doses, poor countries have had only 0.5 percent. This shocking inequality is a public health, economic, gender justice, and moral disaster,” said Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America. “President Biden’s pledge to vaccinate 70 percent of the world by this time next year will not be met by empty promises, but with bold action. That starts by sharing the vaccine knowledge and technology now, so that developing nations can make their own doses.”
“High-income, vaccine-hoarding governments are falling woefully short on their earlier pledges to donate vaccines to the Global South,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of internal medicine and public health at University of Michigan. “What the world needs now is not inconsistent and paltry charitable giving of extra doses, but bold action and a coherent plan to drastically expand global manufacturing, technology transfer, and equitable distribution. A People’s Vaccine will help save millions of lives and curb the pandemic faster for all of us. A global summit is a good step but President Biden needs to go much further, coordinating with other high-income countries to employ transformational approaches to get vaccines to everyone, everywhere.”
The Alliance estimates that only 13 percent of the one billion doses promised by G7 leaders in June have been delivered so far. Meanwhile, the international vaccine initiative COVAX has announced it is half a billion doses short of meeting even its already low target of enough doses for 23 percent of people in developing countries. At the same time, the G7 are on track to waste 100 million doses of the vaccines by the end of the year.
“Rich countries continue to offer pathetic trickles of charity while protecting the monopolies of pharmaceutical corporations and denying billions of people protection,” said Maaza Seyoum of the African Alliance and the People’s Vaccine Alliance in Africa. “With up to 10,000 people dying every day, nothing short of redistributing the rights to produce the vaccines will be enough.”
The Alliance is calling for a fast-track intensive process to urgently agree a TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization with full backing of the US before November, and for President Biden and other world leaders to use every legal and policy tool available to insist pharma work with the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and the South African mRNA tech transfer hub to build up manufacturing capacity and ramp up production.
“The US government has the recipe for the world’s most effective COVID vaccine and can choose to share this knowledge to help make billions more doses in the year ahead,” said Peter Maybarduk, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program. “The World Health Organization has established an mRNA manufacturing hub in South Africa and will need far more ambitious support than wealthy countries have offered so far. Ending the pandemic is a choice.”
“India and South Africa proposed a TRIPS waiver nearly one year ago and have faced nothing but obstruction at every turn. Shameful inaction by President Biden is resulting in countless preventable deaths across the global South,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health Global Access Project (Health GAP). “President Biden must use his global stage at the COVID-19 Summit to call for rapid passage of a robust TRIPS waiver at the WTO. The world can’t tolerate another day of his deadly delays.”
The People’s Vaccine Alliance is calling for President Biden and world leaders to:
- Reach an urgent agreement on a waiver of intellectual property rules ahead of the TRIPS council in October, so that all qualified manufacturers, especially those in developing countries, are able to produce COVID vaccines.
- Make legally binding commitments to share vaccine doses immediately, so that the most vulnerable and those working on the front line in developing countries are protected, before rich countries give third shots to healthy adults.
- Use every power available to make it a requirement for pharmaceutical companies to share technology and know-how with the C-TAP and the mRNA Hub in South Africa and ensure there is enough funding to make the technology transfer happen.
“Rich countries are selfishly looking out for themselves but short-changing all of us. We need bold solutions now, not more empty gestures,” said Dinah Fuentesfina, Campaigns Manager at ActionAid International. “Enough is enough, we must put people before profits. We need a People’s Vaccine—now.”
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.