Fighting for ‘People’s Vaccine’

M. Zahidul Islam

9 June, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Fighting for ‘People’s Vaccine’

M. Zahidul Islam

The corona pandemic has taught us “nobody is safe until everyone is safe and we are not safe until the world is safe”. This voice has been getting louder and louder across the world. Many global health experts, scientists, virologists, doctors, NGOs, International NGOs, academics, politicians, journalists including the head of governments have been advocating in favour of this voice. Since the vaccination campaign has shown a considerable sign of success in many parts of the world, people are breathing a sigh of relief but it has exposed serious contrast between the rich and poor countries. Availability of vaccines has become a serious concern for the poor and developing countries as the ‘vaccines are private goods and are sold to the highest bidder or only to those who can pay the going price’. According to the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “of the 700 million vaccine doses that have been distributed across the globe, over 87 per cent have gone to high-income or upper- and middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.2 per cent.”

This global disparity has sparked the sense of justice, fairness and responsibility of many global health activists and they have been inciting the support of the people irrespective of place, region or continents to beat this pandemic. ‘Inequality of access to vaccine is not just unfair but will also delay the end of this pandemic. Leaving large parts of the world without a vaccine allows the virus to mutate making the effective vaccines of today, but useless for tomorrow. Campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance – whose members including Global Justice Now, Oxfam and UNAID call for the support for a people’s vaccine. The People’s Vaccine Alliance is a movement of health, humanitarian and human rights organisations, past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists advocating that Covid-19 vaccines are manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.’ To ensure all countries can access much needed Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, it recommends the following actions:

•             Pharmaceutical companies and research institutions should share their technology, know-how and intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments through the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool.

•             All governments should support the proposal submitted by the governments of India and South Africa to waiver the relevant chapters of the World Trade Organisation global agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.

•             All governments should issue compulsory licenses for any patented technologies that are useful for tackling Covid-19 where patient access is restricted by intellectual property rights.

•             Governments who have funded research and development should impose conditions on all public funding committed to developing Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to ensure there are no monopolies on publicly funded health products.

•             The Gavi Board should make urgent changes to the COVAX Facility to push for at-cost prices, fair allocation between self-financing and funded countries, transparency and support for the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool.

There have been many responses and reactions coming out to eradicate this pandemic. Some of the remarkable activities and initiatives are as follows:

The Biden administration has expressed its support to a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines. It has also outlined plans to share 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses with other countries. President Joe Biden said, “We are sharing these doses not to secure favours or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values.” USA will also donate US vaccines to the world and encouraging other nations to do the same, working with US manufacturers to increase vaccine production for the rest of the world, and help more countries expand their own capacity to produce vaccines, and through support for global supply chains. This vaccine strategy is to lead the world in the fight to defeat Covid-19, including emergency public health assistance and aid to stop the spread and building global public health capacity and readiness to beat not just this pandemic, but the next one.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed ‘setting up an international forum on vaccine cooperation for vaccine-developing and producing countries, companies and other stakeholders to explore ways of promoting fair and equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.’ He made the proposal at the Global Health Summit on 21 May 2021. He said China will provide an additional US$3 billion in international aid over the next three years to support Covid-19 response and economic and social recovery in other developing countries. Having already supplied 300 million doses of vaccines to the world, China will provide still more doses to the best of its ability. China also supports its vaccine companies in transferring technologies to other developing countries and carrying out joint production with them. Having announced support for waiving intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines, China also supports the World Trade Organization and other international institutions in making an early decision on this matter, President Xi said.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), and the World Health Organization are co-leads of the COVAX initiative for equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines. Countries and private donors pledged nearly $2.4 billion to the Covax vaccine-sharing plan, expanding efforts to make Covid-19 shots more available to people in poorer nations. The funds will allow Covax to secure 1.8 billion fully subsidised doses for delivery to lower-income countries in 2021 and early 2022, enough to protect 30% of adults in those nations. The fresh funds brought total Covax financing to $9.6 billion. GAVI chairman said, "We have taken a big step towards one world protected”. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, pledged an additional $800 million and will also donate about 30 million doses of vaccines produced within the country through Covax. The Covax mechanism has distributed 77 million doses to 127 countries since February. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who pledged 15 million doses and 50 million euros ($61 million), said: "Only by leading by example we will be effective in preaching solidarity." Australia said it was giving a further A$50 million ($39 million) to Covax while Canada, Sweden, France and Switzerland were among other countries to announce new donations. US President Joe Biden announced that the US will allocate 75 percent - nearly 1.9 crore of the first tranche of 2.5 crore doses - of unused vaccines from its stockpile through the COVAX global vaccine sharing programme to countries in South and Southeast Asia as well as Africa.

Philanthropist Bill Gates said: "High-income countries have reserved more vaccines than they need. I encourage these nations to be bold and commit as soon as possible to sharing over 1 billion doses in 2021 mostly through GAVI's Covax advance market commitment," The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $50 million commitment to Covax.

The IMF and the World Bank are now focusing on getting vaccines to poor countries to keep the pandemic from derailing the global economic recovery. Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva is spearheading a $50 billion joint effort with the World Health Organization to expand vaccine access, particularly for impoverished nations that have struggled to get the crucial jabs. The World Bank has committed over $108 billion during the pandemic in more than 100 countries to respond to "the fastest and largest crisis".

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a "new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response". He said the coronavirus pandemic had been a "stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe". Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he said: "There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone. Together we must be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and effectively respond to pandemics in a highly-coordinated fashion. Newspapers around the world have repeated the plea, which is also backed by the 21 head of the governments including France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Greece, Norway, Portugal, Ukraine, South Africa, Romania, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Albania, Fiji, Kenya, Senegal, Rwanda, Chile, Costa Rica, Tunisia and Serbia, and two world leaders – the president of the European Council and the DG of the World Health Organisation. 

Mr Johnson said the commitment would include international cooperation on alert systems, data-sharing, research, and local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter measures, such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment. He said: at a time when Covid-19 has exploited our weaknesses and divisions, we must seize this opportunity and come together as a global community for peaceful cooperation that extends beyond this crisis. Our solidarity in ensuring that the world is better prepared will be our legacy that protects our children and grandchildren and minimizes the impact of future pandemics on our economies and our societies.

Many of the world leaders have been getting closer to their views on the containment of this pandemic. The peace loving people of the world should come forward with their strong voice for a time bound action plan to defeat this invisible enemy of mankind and advance humanity.


The writer is former editor, Journal of the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh