Some countries might achieve widespread immunization by 2024, some might not achieve it at all.
Rabat – As the world grapples with COVID-19, obstacles sow conflict and illuminate the contradictions in global diplomacy. While rich nations hoard anti-COVID-19 vaccines, officials from the global South countries are calling into question the status quo.
“While Rome is burning, we are fiddling around,” said Mustaqeem De Gama, South Africa’s delegate at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on intellectual property rights.
De Gama is referring to the much-reported –and widely decried — fact that high-income countries are consistently purchasing more vaccines than they need, leaving many poorer nations unable to acquire the bare minimum to inoculate their in-need citizens.
Of all premarket purchase commitments totaling 7.48 billion doses, 51% will go to high-income countries, which represent 14% of the world’s population, according to a recent study.
Meanwhile, US officials say that the Biden administration will not share vaccines with struggling countries until most Americans are vaccinated.
“This huge vaccine excess is the embodiment of vaccine nationalism, with countries prioritising their own vaccination needs at the expense of other countries and the global recovery,” said ONE, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty.
Read also: COVAX: How WHO is Fighting Unequal Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccines
Earlier this month, India and South Africa jointly proposed to the WTO a temporary suspension of intellectual property rules related to COVID-19 vaccines. They argued that such a move would make it easier for developing countries to produce their own vaccines.
However, the US, the United Kingdom, and the European Union acted to block the proposal. They in turn claimed following the proposal by India and South Africa would stifle innovation at pharmaceutical companies.
“The first effective vaccines were ready four or five months ago. Do you think it would have made a difference if we had the capacity to manufacture? I certainly think so,” said De Gama.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has denounced the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. According to the UN chief, a handful of countries are blindly and inconsiderately following their narrow interests at the expense of the global community.
While most countries are yet to receive a single dose of the available vaccines, 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccinations, Guterres lamented this week during the first-ever UN Security Council (UNSC) session on vaccinations.
“If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, it will mutate again and again. New variants could become more transmissible, more deadly and, potentially, threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics,” Guterres said..
Global South could take years to vaccinate
As high-income countries purchase more vaccines than they can use, the global South is facing shortages.
The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that many low-income countries might not reach mass immunisation until 2024.
Meanwhile, countries such as the UK, the US, Israel and most EU member states will likely reach herd immunity by late 2021. Following will be other developed countries by the middle of 2022, and middle-income countries by the end of that year.
But the world’s 84 poorest countries will not receive enough doses to sufficiently immunise their populations until 2023 at least. Other studies and reports suggest many Sub-Saharan countries are unlikely to achieve full immunisation, mostly due to low financing capabilities or other more pressing priorities.
While many Western countries have promised to help bridge the widening vaccine gap, China used this week’s UNSC session on vaccines to reaffirm its commitment to the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We must ensure that no country in need of the vaccines is left behind and no individuals waiting for vaccines are neglected,” said Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also reassured the World Health Assembly of “China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.”
COVAX, last hope
COVAX, an initiative co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO, aims to accelerate the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines while ensuring a fair and equitable distribution across the world.
After approving the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in emergency cases, the WHO has pledged to deliver 336 million doses of the vaccine by June, and up to two billion by the end of the year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is prepared to give away hundreds of millions of spare vaccine doses, once the UK reaches full inoculation. Up to 80% of the UK’s surplus doses will go to COVAX, according to Britain’s the Times newspaper. US President Joe Biden could also pledge up to $4 billion (MAD 36 billion) for the COVAX programme.
But even as higher-income countries make their pledges, the time for action is running out. Worldwide, the pandemic has caused more than 111 million infections and nearly 2.5 million deaths.
“The only way to prevent new and possibly more dangerous variants is to dramatically slow transmission of the virus through widespread vaccination,” says ONE.