Matters are coming to a head between global health administrators and drugmakers, as vaccine inequities play out in full public view.
In fact, vaccine makers and developed countries came in for some strong comments from representatives with the African Union, GAVI and World Health Organization. This is as some developed countries prepare to go in for booster shots and others make promises of sharing their excess vaccines.
As the largest maker of vaccines, India, too, came in for more than a mention. Representatives from the African Union urged counterparts in India to be sympathetic to Africa’s needs, as they were to India’s during the peak of the second wave, when vaccine exports were stopped from India.
Outlining the inequity, WHO chief, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2 per cent of those have been administered in Africa.” This leaves people at high risk of disease and death exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection, he added.
“I may sound like a broken record – I don’t care. I will continue to call for vaccine equity until we get it,” said Dr Tedros. Till date, the WHO-supported Covax has shipped more than 260 million doses to 141 countries. “But Covax has also faced several challenges “with manufacturers prioritising bilateral deals and many high-income countries tying up the global supply of vaccines”, he said.
Dr Tedros urged countries with high vaccine coverage “to swap their near-term vaccine deliveries with Covax and AVAT; to fulfil their dose-sharing pledges immediately; and to facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing.”
He also called on the countries and manufacturers to share information on bilateral deals with Covax and AVAT, and to share information on supply and delivery projections so countries could be prepared. AVAT is the African Covid Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, established last year by the African Union, as a complement to Covax to purchase vaccines for AU member states.
Strive Masiyima, AU Special Envoy for Covid, said: “Vaccine sharing is good, but we should not have to be relying on vaccine sharing. Particularly when we can come to the table, put structures in place and say, we also want to buy.”
On IP waivers, he said: “American taxpayers, European taxpayers, they financed some of this intellectual property and it should be for the common good. So, it is not wrong that we say there should be waivers, it was for the common good. So, we ask for this IP to be made available.” He urged countries such as the US, Japan, South Korea and India to lift export restrictions, too.
“At AVAT we want to buy vaccines, we are not asking for donations, you can donate if you so wish,” he said, calling on these countries to lift exports on vaccines, ingredients and drug substances that will help deliver vaccines faster to unserved regions.
On India’s export restrictions, he said Africa understood why they were put in place, “but we do now urge our colleagues to show sympathy to us, because we are the ones facing difficulty now. We need to see some of those vaccines come through”.