“Nairobi, Kenya. South Carolina, USA. Ireland. Imagine the incalculable loss if the entire population of a city, state, or country of five million people perished. As we mark five million confirmed COVID-19 deaths worldwide, it’s difficult to fathom the scope of this ongoing catastrophe.
“But rather than give in to apathy or despair, this grim milestone must serve as a rallying call for everyone to demand that world leaders take the steps needed to end the pandemic and save millions of lives. How? By ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines reach everyone, everywhere. To date, high-income countries and major pharmaceutical companies have hoarded supplies and production capacity, which has effectively locked out billions of people from these lifesaving interventions. While wealthy countries administer boosters, an estimated three in five health workers globally have not been fully vaccinated, nor have countless immunocompromised people around the globe at disproportionately high risk from COVID-19. The global vaccine inequity created by pharmaceutical companies and high-income countries is both ethically bankrupt and counterproductive for global health: unchecked COVID-19 spread could give rise to a dangerous new variant that impacts all of us.
“To truly commemorate the five million confirmed COVID-19 deaths – likely a drastic undercount – high-income countries must abandon the status quo approaches that prioritize pharmaceutical corporations’ profits and imperil billions of people. Instead, governments must compel these companies to share the technology and know-how behind the vaccines with producers in other countries – much like Merck has started to do by facilitating generic production of its COVID-19 antiviral treatment for lower-income countries. Rich countries must also fulfil the meager commitments they have already made to donate doses. To date, only 14 percent of doses promised by high-income countries have been delivered. Wealthy countries should earmark more doses for lower- and middle-income countries and allocate more resources to ensure they are delivered swiftly.
“To honor the five million family members, friends, and colleagues we’ve lost, we must prevent the next million deaths by sharing vaccines equitably 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.