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4th Mar 2021

Coronavirus

Rich countries 'stockpile one billion vaccines', report says

  • The excess doses of rich countries alone would be sufficient to vaccinate the entire adult population of Africa, the report says (Photo: European Commission)

The world's richest countries have monopolised over half of current and projected production doses of vaccines, leaving low-and-medium-income countries struggling to secure vaccines, a report by anti-poverty campaigners found on Friday (19 February).

Ten countries in total have so far administered 75 percent of all Covid-19 vaccines - while 130 countries have not yet received a single dose.

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In their analysis, the ONE Campaign revealed that the 27 EU countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, UK, and the US have already secured a total of over three billion doses of approved vaccines - almost one billion more doses than they would need to vaccinate all their citizens.

The excess doses of rich countries alone would be sufficient to vaccinate the entire adult population of Africa.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has only been able to buy 2.5 billion doses.

The EU alone has secured 2.6 billion vaccines doses - an amount that would allow the bloc to vaccinate every European twice, and still have almost 500 million doses left, according to the advocacy group.

The report focusses specifically on contracts with the five leading vaccine developers: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax.

However, it notes that if other vaccine candidates are found to be safe and effective, like those from Sanofi or CureVac, there would be an additional one billion excess doses available to share.

Anti-poverty campaigners warned that the monopoly of vaccines by rich countries could lead to twice as many deaths from Covid-19.

"As long the virus remains unchecked anywhere on the planet, it will continue to mutate, breach borders, and wreak havoc on communities and the global economy," reads the report, which estimates that vaccine hoarding could cost the global economy about €7.6 trillion.

Voluntary solidarity

Last month, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the world was on the brink of a "catastrophic moral failure" because of the unequal distribution of vaccines.

The WHO has recommended that all countries vaccinate at least 20 percent of their populations, covering health care workers and the most vulnerable, before vaccinating more widely.

But reaching this target in 92 low-and-medium-income economies is subjected to raising funds for COVAX - the UN's programme which aims to ensure that 190 countries have equal access to two billion vaccines by the end of the year.

Norway, for example, has already started to share doses through COVAX.

The EU has also announced that they will share vaccine doses with other countries through COVAX, although with no clear timeline.

"There might be a limited number of doses, for now, we are waiting for the delivered [doses] to become more stable overall. Perhaps it is only at this stage that we will have more to offer," a commission spokesperson said on Friday.

Under the EU vaccine strategy, member states can share doses with poorer and neighbouring countries voluntarily.

French president Emmanuel Macron has called on the US and member states to allocate up to five percent of current vaccine supplies to developing countries. Macron said German chancellor Angela Merkel has also agreed that sharing EU's vaccine stockpile should be a common effort.

The EU and its member states are one of the lead contributors to COVAX with over €2.2bn. The US has pledged €3.2bn to ramp up global vaccination efforts.

Vaccine diplomacy

The so-called "vaccine nationalism," or the seizing of the first batches of doses by rich states that can pay the most or the quickest, has simultaneously triggered a race to show geopolitical leadership.

According to Brandon Locke form the ONE Campaign, "while Russia and China are already sharing Covid-19 vaccine doses with lower-income countries, the EU is losing ground in the race to deliver a global response to the pandemic".

Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Nigeria, among others, are lining up to receive China's Sinovac vaccine, while Russia's Sputnik V had been approved already in 26 countries, including Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, and Guinea.

Last week, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen shed doubts on the Sputnik V vaccine, questioning why "Russia is offering millions of millions of doses while not sufficiently progressing in vaccinating their own people".

Moscow has responded, saying that von der Leyen's comments could indicate "an effort to politicise the issue in an unsubstantiated and…deplorable way" or an inadequate level of awareness, regarding the reported 92-percent efficiency of the vaccine.

A separate study recently revealed that while the vast majority of the adult population in rich countries will be vaccinated by mid-2022, some 85 poorer countries may not have widespread access to vaccines before 2023, at the earliest.

Analysis

Hungary breaks with EU on Russia, China vaccines

While all governments are seeking to secure vaccines as fast as they can so they can open up their economies, so far only Hungary's Viktor Orban has chosen to break with the EU's vaccine strategy.

EU gets vaccines boost amid fears over uneven global supply

Pharmaceutical companies will increase their supply to member states with millions of additional doses, after a heated dispute over delayed deliveries. Meanwhile, the bloc's new control mechanism on vaccine exports faces global criticism amid fears of 'vaccine nationalism'.

EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall

"The view that the company is not obliged to deliver because we signed a 'best effort agreement' is neither correct nor acceptable," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, after the company's CEO tried to justified delayed deliveries to the EU.

EU defends all vaccines, amid lower AstraZeneca take-up

The European Commission said that bloc's strict regulatory process for the evaluation and approval of vaccines is crucial to persuade citizens to get the jab, calling on member states to fight vaccine hesitancy with information.

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