Rich Country Hypocrisy Exposed by Vaccine Inequities
By Anis Chowdhury/Jomo Kwame Sundaram (*)
KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 13 2021 (IPS) – ‘No one is protected from the global pandemic
until everyone is’ has become a popular mantra. But vaccine apartheid
worldwide, due to rich countries’ policies, has made COVID-19 a developing country pandemic, delaying its end and global
countries have been blocking the developing country proposal to
temporarily suspend relevant provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for
the duration of the pandemic to more affordably and effectively contain it.
Needed to quickly scale up production and affordable access
to relevant diagnostic tests, medical treatments, personal protective equipment
and prophylactic vaccines, the proposal – by South Africa and India in late
2020 – is now supported by more than two-thirds of WTO members.
The Biden administration has reversed Trump’s opposition to the proposal, albeit only
for vaccines. Without necessary complementary measures, and with continued opposition from European governments, the US partial policy
reversal has not had any real impact so far.
As the World Health Organization Director-General notes, the
pandemic is being prolonged by the “scandalous inequity” in vaccinations. “The global failure
to share vaccines equitably is fuelling a two-track pandemic that is now taking its toll on some of
the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people”.
countries have been hoarding far more vaccine doses than they
need. The European Union (EU) secured three billion doses, or 6.6 per
person, while the US got 1.3 billion, or five each. Canada got 450 million for
38 million, or twelve each, the UK over 500 million, i.e., eight each, and
Australia 170 million for 25 million, or seven each!
With mainly adults vaccinated, the actual ratios are even
more obscene. UNICEF found most high-income countries had acquired at least 350% of doses needed. Agreements for vaccine
delivery to low- and middle-income countries up to 2023 will only cover half
their populations, at most.
Supplies will not begin until year’s end, i.e., after their
domestic vaccination programs are largely done. Most are doses ordered well in
excess of needs. Clearly, the G7 does not have a serious plan, let alone commitment to
vaccinate the world.
most EU parliamentarians support the TRIPS waiver proposal,
the European Commission (EC), the EU executive, adamantly opposes it, offering
half-truths as excuses. European leaders block progress by claiming that increased production and exports are more
urgent, and require patent protection.
EC President Ursula von der Leyen sees the pandemic as a chance for
vaccine-producing countries to export more, while dismissively asserting that
waivers will “not bring a single dose of vaccine in the short and medium term”.
Now, the EC has legalised world vaccine apartheid by only recognising four vaccines – AstraZeneca (only if produced
in Europe), Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Hundreds of millions in
the global South vaccinated with AZ manufactured in India and many others will
thus be banned from Europe!
By 7 July, more than 3.32
doses had been administered worldwide, with 85% going to high- and upper
middle-income countries, and only 0.3% to low-income countries. Africa’s
vaccination rate (4% so far) is the slowest of all the continents, with some
countries yet to start, while infection rates are rising fast.
The United Nations Secretary-General has warned, “Vaccine equity is the greatest immediate moral
test of our times. It is also a practical necessity. Until everyone is
vaccinated, everyone is under threat”.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has proposed investing
US$50bn to help immunise at least 40% of the world population by the end of
2021 and the balance by mid-2022.
Ending the pandemic would accelerate economic recovery and
generate US$9tn more in global output plus US$1tn in tax revenue by 2025. Yet,
last weekend’s G20 Finance meeting refused to endorse it.
Reject new apartheid,
former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has rhetorically asked, “vaccines for
all or vaccine apartheid?”. Scaling up vaccine production to immunise the world quickly
requires unprecedented international cooperation.
Suspending patents can help contain the pandemic, but the
selfish policies of the global North have made COVID-19 a pandemic of the South. This is also impeding its end and
recovery for all, besides deepening the North-South divide, and inevitably,
Meanwhile, the IMF warns of a ‘dangerous divergence’ in economic recovery between rich and
poor countries. With their limited fiscal resources, high debt burdens and weak
health systems, countries in the global South must urgently reconsider their
options to address the escalating catastrophe.
(*) Anis Chowdhury was born in
Chittagong, Bangladesh. He was schooled at the Government M.E. School;
Chittagong Collegiate School; and Chittagong Government College. Anis obtained
Honours and Masters degrees in Economics from Jahangirnagar University
(Bangladesh) in 1976 and 1978 respectively, and M.A (1980) and Ph.D. (1983)
degrees from the University of Manitoba (Canada). Jomo Kwame Sundaram,
a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General
for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing
the Frontiers of Economic Thought.