A chorus of activists are calling for changes to intellectual property laws in hopes of beginning to boost Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing globally, and addressing the gaping disparity between rich and poor nations’ access to coronavirus vaccines.
The US and a handful of other wealthy vaccine-producing nations are on track to deliver vaccines to all adults who want them in the coming months, while dozens of the world’s poorest countries have not inoculated a single person.
As it stands, 30 countries have not received a single vaccine dose. Roughly 90m vaccine doses expected to be distributed through Covax, the global alliance to distribute vaccines to poor countries, have been delayed through March and April by a Covid-19 outbreak in India. In Europe, rising Covid-19 cases and a slow vaccination campaign have also prompted vaccine export controls.
Activists have dubbed the disparity a “vaccine apartheid” and called for the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to share technical know-how in an effort to speed the global vaccination project.
“The goal of health agencies right now is to manage the pandemic, and that might mean not everyone getting access – and not just this year – in the long-term,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s access to medicine programme.
“If we want to change that, if we’re not going to wait until 2024, then it requires more ambitious and a different scale of mobilization of resources,” said Maybarduk. Right now, “it’s not even clear the goal is to vaccinate the world”.
The pressure to get more vaccines to poor nations has also weighed on the Joe Biden administration in the US, which is now considering whether to repurpose or internationally distribute 70m vaccine doses. After outcry, the US has shared 4m AstraZeneca vaccine doses with Canada and Mexico.
“There’s no question poorer countries are having a hard time affording doses,” said Dr Howard Markel, a pandemic historian at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Even if they were at wholesale or cost there are a lot of different markups.”
Read more of Jessica Glenza’s report here: How wealthy nations are creating a ‘vaccine apartheid’