Friday, January 21, 2022

Rich countries starve the developing world of vaccines. Omicron Shows the Price of This Greed

We do not yet know how dangerous the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 will prove to be. Preliminary evidence suggests it may be more transmissible than other types, and the World Health Organization has raised concerns about its potential to spark another global surge in infections.

If currently available vaccines protect us from serious illness and death, which are likely to occur at this stage, those vaccinated in developed countries should heave a sigh of relief.

But with a yawning gap between vaccination rates in high- and low-income countries, Omicron could present a bigger problem for the world. It could lead to another wave of preventable disease and premature death in developing countries, and exacerbate poverty in parts of the world that are already battling the pandemic.

And unless governments take immediate action to correct these disparities, we risk the emergence of further forms, some of which can be avoided by vaccines.

Read more: The best hope of fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally is at risk of failing. Here’s how to save it

Inequality in access to COVID-19 vaccines

As of the end of November, about 54.2% of the global population had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. For low-income countries, however, the rate was only 5.8%.

COVID vaccination dose per person.
our world in data

The gap in vaccination coverage is particularly deep between high-income and upper-middle income countries on the one hand and low-income countries on the other.

Rich countries starve the developing world of vaccines. Omicron Shows the Price of This Greed
The dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is given per 100 people by income group.
our world in data

Vaccination rates in Africa are particularly concerning. About 40 or more countries still have less than 10% of their population fully immunized, most of them in Africa.

Rich countries starve the developing world of vaccines. Omicron Shows the Price of This Greed
Comparison between the most highly vaccinated nations and the bottom most countries, most of which are in Africa.
our world in data

Experts have warned about uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic, so why is there still a problem?

COVAX’s failure to deliver on its promise

First, COVAX, the global program for the procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, has struggled to secure adequate vaccine doses since its inception.

About 100 low-income countries depend on the vaccine program. COVAX initially aimed to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, enough to vaccinate only the most at-risk groups in developing countries. However, its delivery forecast in September was limited to only 1.425 billion doses by the end of the year.

A shipment of COVAX vaccines arrives in Madagascar in May.
A shipment of COVAX vaccines arrives in Madagascar, which is still one of the least vaccinated countries in the world.
Alexander Joe / AP

And by the end of November, fewer than 576 million doses had actually been delivered.

This predictable failure is largely due to wealthy countries eliminating more than half of the first 7.5 billion vaccine doses developed through pre-purchase agreements, leaving pieces only for COVAX.

Persistently low investment in COVAX (both in terms of dosage and money), and the hoarding of vaccine doses in wealthy countries for boosters, have led to the continued supply of COVAX to be distributed to those most in need.

Read more: Are newer COVID variants like Omicron linked to lower vaccine coverage? here’s what the science says

Failure to meet promised vaccine donation

Rich countries are ashamed of pledging to donate large numbers of supplements to low- and middle-income countries. But some of these pledges have yet to translate into vaccines in weapons.

As of October 25, more than 1.3 billion vaccine doses had been pledged, but only around 10% had been distributed.

Rich countries starve the developing world of vaccines. Omicron Shows the Price of This Greed
COVID-19 vaccines donated to COVAX.
our world in data

Meanwhile, many high-income countries have ignored the WHO’s pleas until booster vaccinations are provided in the rest of the world. Even after the boosters are administered, Médecins Sans Frontires estimates that ten high-income countries will be sitting on more than 870 million additional doses by the end of the year.

Take Australia as an example. It has promised to deliver 60 million doses to developing countries in the Indo-Pacific, but less than 9.3 million have been delivered so far. None of these doses are scheduled for equitable distribution through COVAX, and none are currently committed to Africa.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has invested more than $8 billion (US$5.7 billion) in pre-purchase agreements for 280.8 million vaccine doses for Australians. This equates to more than 10 doses per person.

Failure to agree to a temporary change in business rules

Some wealthy countries have also continued to oppose a proposal to temporarily suspend trade rules protecting pharmaceutical companies’ monopolies over COVID-19 health products and technologies.

Initially proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020, the so-called TRIPS exemption will enable companies around the world to independently produce COVID-19 products and technologies without the fear of litigation over potential infringement of intellectual property rights.

It is now co-sponsored by 63 countries and supported by more than 100 of the 164 member states of the WTO. The US signaled its support for a waiver (limited to vaccines) in May, but it did not formally co-sponsor the proposal. The European Union, Britain and Switzerland continue to oppose it, with Germany being particularly staunch opponents.

A BioNTech vaccine production facility in Germany.
A BioNTech vaccine production facility in Marburg, Germany.
Michael Probst / AP

The TRIPS exemption, if adopted as sponsored by 63 countries, would cover all health products and technologies used to prevent, treat, and treat COVID-19, including vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests, medical devices and personal protective equipment. and are necessary to control.

It would waive the rules in the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that cover patents, anonymized information (such as information submitted to regulatory agencies or protected as trade secrets), copyright and industrial applied to the designs. And it will last for at least three years from the date of adoption of the exemption, and then be reviewed annually.

However, more than a year after the waiver was proposed, discussions at the WTO remain deadlocked.

Read more: US support for waiving COVID vaccine IP is a huge step

The European Union emphasizes that it would be sufficient to change the existing provisions in the TRIPS Agreement which allows the exploitation of the subject matter of a patent – ​​compulsory licensing – without the permission of the patent holder. However, it does not include undisclosed information, which is essential for manufacturing vaccines.

Several countries, including the UK, the European Union, China and Australia, are now supporting a separate resolution at the WTO that addresses other trade-related issues, such as export restrictions and customs procedures. However, it fails to lift the intellectual property rights that have been maintaining a monopoly on COVID-19 products.

To further delay matters, the emergence of the Omicron version resulted in the postponement of the WTO Ministerial Council meeting this week, where these proposals were to be discussed. While the debate will continue in the TRIPS Council in December, the momentum to arrive at a decision in the near future may have been lost.

urgent action needed

Wealthy countries have hoarded vaccines, starved COVAX for money and supplements, promised to slow donations, and stalled a global deal to lift barriers to the widespread manufacture of vaccines in developing countries. Have given.

We should do better. The Omicron version clearly shows that the world can’t wait any longer.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

Nation World News Desk
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