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Poor may suffer as rich nations stockpile vaccines

December 9, 2020

Rich nations are stockpiling the most promising coronavirus vaccines, and people in poorer nations could miss out as a result. Campaigners are urging pharma companies to share technology so more doses can be made.

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine in the UK
The UK began its coronavirus vaccination campaign on TuesdayImage: Andrew Milligan/REUTERS

Just one in 10 people in dozens of poor countries will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus because wealthy countries have hoarded more doses than they need, the People's Vaccine Alliance said Wednesday.

Rich nations have bought 54% of the total stock of the world's most promising vaccines, despite being home to just 14% of the global population, said the Alliance, a coalition including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Global Justice Now.

Those wealthy nations have purchased enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations three times over by the end of 2021 if the vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials are approved for use.

"This shouldn't be a battle between countries to secure enough doses," Mohga Kamal-Yanni, an advisor for People's Vaccine Alliance, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Alliance called on pharmaceutical companies developing coronavirus vaccines to openly share their technology and intellectual property through the World Health Organization so that more doses can be made.

"During these unprecedented times of a global pandemic, people's lives and livelihoods should be put before pharmaceutical company profit," Kamal-Yanni said.

Wealthy countries first?

The UK began vaccinating high-risk groups on Tuesday after becoming the first country to approve the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. The US and EU are expected to follow suit in the coming days and weeks.

This week it was revealed US President Donald Trump would sign an executive order prioritizing the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine to Americans before doses go to other nations, as part of his "America First" policy.

But while these wealthy nations are either beginning or about to begin their vaccination campaigns, the People's Vaccine Alliance warned that people in 67 low- and lower-middle-income countries, including Bhutan, Ethiopia and Haiti, are at risk of being left out.

Almost all the available doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — two of the most promising — have been bought up by rich countries, the Alliance said.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University, who are also developing a promising vaccine, have promised to make 64% of their doses available to developing countries. However, the Alliance said that would reach only 18% of the world's population by next year "at most."

"No one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket," said Anna Marriott, Oxfam's health policy manager. "But unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 for years to come."

dr/sms  (Reuters, dpa)