Canada, US, UK and EU blocking proposals at WTO to help poorer countries get vaccines more quickly
One year on from the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the People’s Vaccine Alliance is warning developing countries are facing critical shortages of oxygen and medical supplies to cope with COVID-19 cases, and yet the majority have been unable to administer a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In contrast, Canada and other rich nations have vaccinated their citizens at a rate of one person per second over the last month.
Many of these rich nations, including Canada, US, UK and the EU, are blocking a proposal by over 100 developing countries to be discussed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) today, which would override the monopolies held by pharmaceutical companies and allow an urgently needed scale up in the production of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to ensure poorer countries get access to the doses they desperately need.
While Canada has made significant contributions to Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX facility – it’s still not enough as these mechanisms don’t address the shortage of vaccine. Even though more poor countries will see the arrival of the COVAX doses in the coming days, the amounts available mean only three per cent of people in those countries can hope to be vaccinated by mid-year, and only one fifth at best by the end of 2021.
“This crisis has devastated lives everywhere but in a world marked by extreme inequality some people have been hit harder than others, especially women of colour and other marginalized groups,” said Diana Sarosi, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Oxfam Canada. “Seventy per cent of health care workers around the world are women and they need a vaccine now to do their jobs safely. The fastest way to end this scramble for vaccines is to push pharmaceuticals to share their technology and intellectual property. Canada has a chance to change the course of the pandemic this week by voting in favour of the WTO waiver on intellectual property.”
A recent public opinion poll of Canadians done by Leger for Oxfam Canada found that on average:
- The majority (76 per cent) feel pharma companies that have used public funds should be required to share their COVID-19 formulas.
- More than half (56 per cent) think governments should ensure vaccine science and know-how is shared with qualified manufacturers around the world and vaccine developers should be adequately compensated for this.
- Three-quarters (75 per cent) say that, even if for now vaccinations mean COVID-19 is spreading less in Canada, the continued spread of COVID-19 elsewhere in the world is an ongoing threat to the Canadian economy.
- Half (50 per cent) say that, even if for now vaccinations mean COVID-19 is spreading less in Canada, the continued spread of COVID-19 elsewhere in the world is a threat to them personally.
Almost one million people worldwide have signed a call by the People’s Vaccine Alliance – a group of campaigning organizations including Oxfam, Treatment Action Campaign, UNAIDS and the Yunus Centre – for rich nations to stop protecting big pharma monopolies and profits over people’s lives. On March 11, protests will take place outside pharmaceutical headquarters as part of a global day of action by activists across the world.
The Alliance warned that in South Africa, Malawi and other African nations history is in danger of repeating itself. Millions of people died in the early 2000’s because pharmaceutical monopolies had priced successful treatments for HIV/AIDS out of reach at up to $10,000 a year. Pharma monopolies were eventually overruled allowing the mass production of cheap effective treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS, meaning millions of people are alive today who would otherwise have perished.
On March 10 and 11, more than 100 developing countries, led by South Africa and India will again make the case at the WTO for a waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), which would remove legal barriers for more countries and manufacturers to produce the vaccines, protect their people and join the economic recovery ahead. Endorsed by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director on March 5, Oxfam Canada has written a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau calling for Canada to support the TRIPS waiver to fast-track vaccine manufacturing.
All the leading vaccine developers have benefited from billions of dollars in public subsidies, yet pharmaceutical corporations have been handed the monopoly rights to produce and profit from them.
At the same time qualified vaccine producers all over the world stand ready to produce more vaccines if they were allowed access to the technology and know-how now being held under lock and key by these companies. According to Suhaib Siddiqi, former director of chemistry at Moderna, producer of one of the first approved vaccines, said that with the blueprint and technical advice, a modern factory should be able to produce vaccines in three to four months.
To control the virus, enough doses of vaccines need to be produced in different geographies, priced affordably, allocated globally and widely deployed for free in local communities. So far, the world is failing on all four fronts.
Oxfam International’s Executive Director, Gabriela Bucher, said: “Around the world, 2.5 million lives have already been lost due to this brutal disease and many countries are battling without adequate medical care and no vaccines. By allowing a small group of pharmaceutical companies to decide who lives and who dies, rich nations are prolonging this unprecedented global health emergency and putting countless more lives on the line. At this crucial time, developing countries need support – not opposition.”
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Notes to editors:
- Drawing on data from OurWorldInData, Bloomberg, John Hopkins University and additional searches, of the 79 low and lower-middle income countries, as classified by the World Bank, the majority (at least 47 countries) are yet to vaccinate anyone. This figure is accurate as of 4 March and factors in reported planned deliveries of COVAX vaccines in the coming days even if vaccines are yet to be administered. We recognize that more unreported COVAX shipments may arrive in the interim.
- Since the start of 2021 high income countries have on average vaccinated citizens at a rate of one dose per second. Canada on average vaccinated 31,508 people in seven days, which breaks down to 3,938 people per hour or 66 per minute or one per second. This is based on the average daily COVID-19 vaccination doses administered between January 1 and March 2, 2021 and was drawn from OurWorldInData for countries classified as ‘High Income’ by the World Bank. An hourly rate was calculated by assuming countries are vaccinating 8 hours per day which was then divided into minutes and seconds. The average of these per second rates for these 68 high income countries was then calculated at 1.1 doses per second or 66 per minute. The average figure includes six High Income countries that have not yet begun vaccinating citizens.
- The YouGov poll results for the individual countries were: US – 69 per cent, France – 63 per cent, Germany 70 per cent and the UK 74 per cent, which gives a combined average across the countries of 69 per cent. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,351 adults in the US, 1788 adults in the UK, 1010 adults in France and 2039 adults in Germany. Fieldwork was undertaken February 23 – 26, 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults (aged 18+) in each individual country of the US, UK, France and Germany.
- Last week, The Associated Press found factories on three continents whose owners said they could begin producing hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines on short notice, if only they had the blueprints and technical know how to do so.
- Countries like South Sudan, Yemen and Malawi have seen dramatic surges in cases in recent months. Malawi saw a 9500 per cent increase in cases as the South African mutation spread through the country and two of their cabinet ministers died in one day.
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