The vaccine widens the gap

Richest approach to take it all in the fight against Covid exposes an unequal world

AuthorTelangana TodayPublished: December 12, 2020 12:00 amUpdated: December 12, 2020 12:01 am

A global study on Covid-19 vaccine purchase deals reveals a disturbing trend that exposes an unequal world at work. Now it has emerged that rich countries are hoarding supplies to increase their chances of covering their entire population several times over, while middle and lower middle income countries do not have enough to vaccinate everyone. The Duke University study in the United States shows a large gap in the purchase of vaccines from rich nations and developing countries, highlighting how vaccine nationalism has become the buzzword. Once the vaccines hit the market, most will go to rich nations. Low- and middle-income countries and equity-focused associations like Covax will be deprived of adequate supplies. The World Health Organization (WHO) and some other international alliances have started a program called the ‘Covax Facility’ to ensure equitable access to vaccines, but the initiative, although high-minded, could not advance much. Among developing nations, India will be able to cover only 59% of its population with an advance purchase of 1.6 billion doses, Mexico 84% and Brazil 46%. The Philippines is at the bottom of the table with enough vaccines for only 1% of its population. On the other hand, Canada has made enough vaccine purchases to cover 601% of its population, the United States 443%, the United Kingdom 418%, Australia 266% and the European Union 244%. It is feared that such advance deals will make vaccines unaffordable and inaccessible to poor countries that may be forced to wait for supplies for months or even years.

The WHO has warned nations against hoarding Covid vaccines. Their calls for an equitable and ethical distribution of the vaccine have fallen on deaf ears amid the changing geopolitical dynamics in the global pharmaceutical sector. Many of the vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials may not be successful. This will eventually lead to an increase in the prices of vaccines that have been successfully developed, making them unaffordable for many countries. As a leading supplier of vaccines to the world, India has the potential to play a key role in overcoming vaccine nationalism. Currently, 260 vaccine candidates are in different stages of development globally. Of these, eight will be manufactured in India, including three indigenous. The richest-take-all approach in the ongoing global fight against the pandemic is bound to backfire, especially to the recovery of low- and middle-income countries. Those with the deepest pockets should not be allowed to go with most of the new vaccines. International cooperation is necessary to arrive at a global strategy. India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing center, can play a crucial role in closing the gap.

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