VACCINE CRISIS ACCELERATING
While the coronavirus rapidly mutates, billions will wait years to receive the vaccine.
OUR ONLY WAY OUT: Biden Administration must fulfill their campaign promise to share vaccine patents globally and increase the number of vaccine manufacturers.
February 10, 2021
We have reached a crucial juncture in the coronavirus pandemic where vaccines are being distributed to the public. But who are the recipients?
Massive inequities persist between those who have access to the vaccine and those who do not. Currently, rich countries representing 16% of the world population have purchased 60% of the total vaccine supply.
Tulika Singh is a Right to Health Action State Captain and researcher living in Durham, North Carolina. She lost her grandmother to the coronavirus in 2020.
“After 19 agonizing days in a crowded hospital in India," she reflects, "my grandmother died of COVID-19. Thinking about her last moments in isolation haunts me. We simply cannot afford to delay life-saving vaccines and allow this virus to take more lives. The pandemic will not be over anywhere until the virus is stopped everywhere."
Without significant increases in manufacturing capacity, projections estimate that it will be 2024 before vaccines reach people in low-income countries. The COVAX facility has been the focal point of efforts to distribute the vaccine around the world. It stands at risk of failure. Even if COVAX succeeds, it will only be able to purchase 20% of the needed vaccines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Teddros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, agree: scaling up local manufacturing in developing countries will save lives and bring COVID-19 under control.
In an interview on February 3rd with the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Fauci emphasized the obligation of rich countries like the United States to ensure that low-income countries receive the vaccine:
"Rich countries have a moral responsibility when there is a global outbreak like this to provide for countries who don't have the resources to vaccinate their populations. ... [We should supplement] their own productive capability to manufacture vaccines, with cooperation from the pharmaceutical companies for relaxation of their patents."
Releasing the patents alone isn’t enough. Manufacturers also require specialized resources to make the vaccines. In 2020, the WHO created the COVID-19 Technology and Access Pool (C-TAP) to share patents, knowledge, and other intellectual property to expand manufacturing capacity for vaccines. C-TAP is modeled after the Medicines Patent Pool, a public health organization that has successfully demonstrated how the private sector can share technology with low-income countries to help ensure medicines are available and affordable.
The Biden administration must commit both public and private intellectual property to C-TAP and bring all vaccine manufacturers to the table. The U.S. must also fully support low and middle-income countries to quickly scale up production of vaccines.
As long as the pandemic continues to rage unabated, we will remain vulnerable to new COVID-19 variants and their adverse impacts on vaccine efficacy. Mutations have already emerged in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil. On February 7th, South African health officials abruptly halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after it was found to be ineffective against COVID-19 variants.
We risk COVID-19 circulating out of control for years to come, which will result in millions of excess deaths and leave the global economy in tatters.
Increased production and access to vaccine technology is the only path forward. US taxpayers have already paid $12 billion toward vaccine development. According to low-end estimates, the global economy loses $417 billion every month that COVID-19 persists. Without swift action to ensure everyone has access to vaccines, these investments will be for naught.
In Tulika's words, “I am afraid for the health of my 89-year old grandfather, who continues to be at high-risk of COVID-19. Without action, he will not get the vaccine till 2024. None of our family members are safe until everyone has the vaccine. We have the choice to control this pandemic and save millions of lives. "
World leaders have the power to ensure people like Tulika do not senselessly lose more family members to the pandemic. Do they have the political will to act?
90,000 Right to Health Action supporters, 450+ organizational endorsers, and 141 Members of Congress are calling on President Joe Biden to make the moral choice: break the monopolies, share vaccine technology worldwide, and prevent millions of future deaths.
About Right to Health Action:
Right to Health Action is a grassroots movement of tens of thousands of activists, health workers, scholars, and families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 across all 50 states. Sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, our goal is to take political action to repeal and replace deadly policies that cause cycles of pandemics, disproportionately impacting the already poor and sick. Our movement is fighting to stop COVID, build back better, and stop the pandemics of the future.