“If the dangerous trend of vaccine nationalism & hoarding in wealthier countries continues, it could delay a global recovery. We must ensure that vaccines are available & affordable to all as soon as possible.” Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General on April 5, 2021.
Please register here: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIodO2qqD0oE9YyJ9bS2fOPpQFc3RYuICm4
The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an unending onslaught on the humanity. The world has seen 3.33 million deaths due to the Coronavirus till date (May 12) and many more have died due to hunger owing to the lockdowns and shutdowns. The countries are in 2nd, 3rd and even perceivably 4th waves of COVID-19. The governments in most cases have not been able to prevent some avoidable deaths in face of the colossal challenge thrown by the pandemic. Vaccine now comes as a ray of hope for the humanity to save itself from the deadly virus.
Most of the countries now have started vaccination. Starting from the UK on December 8, 2020, vaccination has been undertaken by several countries. According to Bloomberg, more than 1.34 billion doses of vaccines have been administered in 175 countries till May 12. Currently about 8.7 percent of the global population have been fully vaccinated and the latest per day rate of vaccination is 21.6 million doses per day.
- Inequality in vaccination:
The unfortunate aspect is the inequality in vaccination. As per Bloomberg, “40% of the vaccines administered have gone to people in 27 wealthy nations having 11% of the global population, whereas countries making up the least wealthy 11% have got 1.6% vaccines. In other words, countries with highest incomes are getting vaccinated 25 times faster than the countries with lowest income”. While the rich countries have hoarded and pre-ordered surplus vaccines for themselves, e.g., Canada has ordered 10 times vaccine to its population, the poor countries are struggling to get a bare minimum, e.g., Afghanistan has got only 500,000 vaccines (through bilateral aid from India) against its population of 38 million. Such a trend has evoked the response from the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who on April 5, 2021 lamented “vaccine nationalism” and reiterated the point that “only together we will defeat COVID-19.”
The Economist Intelligence Unit suggest in January 2021 that more than 85 countries will not have widespread access to vaccines before 2023.
Apart from vaccine nationalism, another major roadblock for fully rolling out and equitable vaccination is the patenting of the vaccines. Tough the private pharma companies have developed and manufactured the vaccines, majority of investment came from the government, universities and charities. In other words, public money has been invested in the process. Therefore, the approach of the big pharma companies to “make profit” by cashing in on the misery of people does not stand the ground. Some vaccine companies are in news recently for making good profits as their share values goes up, e.g., BioNTECH, the German firm and Moderna, Massachusetts based firm.
Therefore the “patent” should go and technological knowledge should be shared freely with all so that the middle-income countries can start their own production of the vaccines. This will open the road for ensuring access to the Covid-19 vaccines.
India and South Africa, supported by more than 100 nations, have tabled an emergency proposal at the World Trade Organisation to temporarily suspend the patents for Covid-related vaccines and treatments, until the pandemic is over. Unfortunately this has been opposed by developed countries until recent announcement by President Joe Biden supporting the waiver proposal. Initially EU showed positive signs to the US announcement but Germany is opposing it. In Asia rich countries like Japan, Singapore and South Korea have been opposing the waiver proposal.
GCAP welcomes this move and asks other countries blocking the patent waiver to agree as well. Also, we demand transfer of technologies through the WHO Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, so that vaccines can be manufactured across the global south. The rich countries must ensure that the waiver applies not just to vaccines, but to all COVID-19 related technologies.
A programme, COVAX, initiated by World Health Organisation and other groups before a year aims at ensuring equitable access of vaccines to all 190 participating economies, mainly the poorer countries. Beginning of vaccine delivery to Ghana in February 2021, it has reached 100 countries by April 8.
- Demand for free vaccine for all
In this context, a call for “free vaccine for all, everywhere” has been given by the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), a global alliance of civil societies, health experts, faith leaders, economists and so. PVA demands to treat it as “a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine”. It has called for the patent waiver on the vaccines so that the low and middle income countries, those who have the capacity to manufacture the vaccines, can do so for their people once they get the vaccine know-how, technology and other support. This will not only multiply production but also cover a larger population including the most marginalised, if a proper vaccination framework is in place in the countries.
GCAP is part of the people’s Vaccine Alliance formally. It is also engaged on the issue supporting the call for a ‘people’s vaccine’. GCAP has called on pharmaceutical companies and rich countries to join World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) initiative calling for voluntary sharing of knowledge, intellectual property, data and removing barriers to access raw material to make vaccines and other essential products to fight COVID-19. Adequate steps ought to be taken to make the vaccines affordable for the low and middle income countries to procure them for their people.
Activism by GCAP Asia: GCAP – Asia and national coalitions in Asia active on the issue with the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Asia Chapter. GCAP participated in the TRIPS Waiver campaign of People’s Vaccine Alliance, Asia Chapter on April 29-30, 2021 .
- Status of vaccination in Asian countries (GCAP countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines, Japan and Singapore)
(Vaccination status is provided for each country as on 12th May. Source: Bloomeberg.com)
Vaccination status: 485,000 doses administered, 0.7% population covered
It has 38 million population. Till now it has received 500,000 vaccines from India by aid. It will get 3 million doses more to be purchased from India and China by the World Bank and donate. Priority is given to security personnel and senior citizens . NGOs are involved including in doing inoculation. (Including Sanayee Development Organisation (SDO/GCAP Afghanistan).
There is concern on how the distribution would be managed eventually. NGOs will have any role or not in next tranche of the vaccines. Whether it would be inoculated free of cost, or would be charged. There is a fear that the pharmaceutical companies may get access to it and may sell in high cost. In such cases there will be exclusion.
Vaccination status: 3.32 million doses administered, 0.8% population covered
Pakistan has already started vaccination from February by importing vaccines from China through aid. It’s being inoculated for free initially the frontline workers and senior citizens (Above 60). It has yet refrained from using public money for the same. Pakistan government has allowed private players to import vaccine from China and Russia and UK – four vaccines -Sinophram (China), Oxford-AstraZeneca (UK), Sputnik-V (Russia) and Cansino Bio (China). It has decided to put a cap on the vaccines. Now the two doses of Sputnik doses are being sold @ $80 as per news report.
Vaccination status: 175 million doses administered. 6.4% population covered.
India is a vaccine producer: Covishield and Covaxin. Covaxin is a domestic variant. It’s given to frontline workers and health workers initially and now it’s given to all adult population. In the second phase, targeting is done – priority is being given to the vendors and such groups who come in contact with several people. But with sharp rise in COVID cases the demand for vaccines has been insurmountable. It is not able to meet the demands. It has allowed the import of vaccines from abroad.
Vaccination status: 2.45 million doses administered, 4.3% population covered.
In has purchased 2 million doses from India. It will get more from the World Bank as aid. Vaccination is going on smoothly. Health workers, frontline workers (Cleaners etc.) and public servants, Parliamentarians, elderly are given on priority basis – all free of cost. Journalist are also given, so also international diplomats and officials. China has promised to give 500,000. Government planning to purchase 4 million.The CSOs are meeting the Minister of Health to ensure how they give priority to the most marginalized people, and then others. Govt is trying to give everyone equally.
Vaccination status: 9.41 million doses administered. 6.4% population covered.
First challenge was the opinion whether to take vaccine or not as there was a lot of misinformation. We received 3.5 million from India. We have the government-to-government contract to get 35 million. Government is trying to cover all the frontline and elderly people. The rich are getting vaccinated and the poor people are not able to receive the support as the mechanism is not effective. CSOs are pushing that to take to the grassroots.
Vaccination status: 2.28 million doses administered. 6.9% population covered.
Cambodia received vaccine from China and India. Government is encouraging people for vaccination. Its free for public servants and for common people. New Zealand supported Cambodia with funding to procure vaccines.
viii. the Philippines:
Vaccination status: 2.07 million doses administered. 1.0% population covered.
Slow roll out of vaccines has started. Covax and Sinovac are administered for free. WHO supported. Its initially given to the frontline workers and senior citizens. Total population is 110 million, only 300,000 have been rolled out. The national govt not supervising , but the local government are doing it. It has both advantages and disadvantages. There should be a role of the national government. As local govt can procure, it leads to disparities in places. And there is also disparities in data.
Vaccination status: 4.73 million doses administered. 1.9% population covered.
In Japan vaccination has started. It imported vaccine of Thailand. No official schedule. Ordinary people will get the vaccination in later half of year.
Vaccination status: 3.15 million doses administered. 27.5% population covered.
It has got different types of vaccines. Anyone above 60 has to take the vaccine. The frontline workers, delivery boys etc. will also take the vaccine. Migrant workers are being vaccinated. Foreigners are also getting – basic is who is more susceptible to the virus. It’s going on well.
Contact Person: Pradeep Baisakh, Asia Coordinator, GCAP