Inequality Delays Vaccine Access Until 2023
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Inequality Delays Vaccine Access Until 2023

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Miriam Bello By Miriam Bello | Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst - Wed, 02/24/2021 - 18:09

During the UN’s Security Council meeting, Mexico called out a vaccine monopoly. This was among the main topics of the meeting as not only Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard brought it up, but also UN’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres, among other world leaders.

Country representatives congratulated COVAX, the global mechanism created to guarantee vaccine distribution in developing countries. However, developed and high-income countries are also part of this agreement, which compromises equal access for all. So far, COVAX has secured 2.3 billion doses through advance commitments, offering options for 190 economies in 2021.

Canada is the only wealthy country member of COVAX, for which it has faced global criticism. The country has been accused of securing vaccines for five times its current population. Our government will never apologize for doing everything in our power to get Canadians vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, according to The Washington Post.

Other countries have also secured more doses than they need to vaccinate their population:

UK – 339.6 %

Canada – 335.4%

Hungary - 267.1%

Australia – 249.5%

New Zealand – 246.8%

Mexico has secured doses for 119.2 percent of its population. The country is also a member of COVAX and is one of the few Latin American countries that has begun vaccination and was one of the first to authorize many developments. To date, around 1,733,404 people have been vaccinated in the country. However, not all countries are likely to replicate this scenario. Even if low-income countries were to approve COVID-19 vaccines, their access to the doses would come much later.

COVAX was initially created as a WHO initiative to avoid limited access to COVID-19 vaccines. However, Canada’s membership, along with a couple other wealthy countries, raises questions about the mechanism. As a response, WHO has joined COVAX with other vaccine programs, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Together, they have defined high-level guidelines based on ethical values to be considered for an equitable vaccine distribution. The main points these programs follow are:

  • Human well-being
  • Equal respect
  • Global equity
  • National equity
  • Reciprocity
  • Legitimacy

The guidelines also mention a “humanitarian buffer.” WHO encourages vaccine distribution among population segments outside government-controlled areas, such as displaced people, refugees, migrants and detainees.

WHO’s efforts are being disrupted by direct contracts with pharmaceuticals, however. According to the Washington Post, low-income countries might receive the COVID-19 vaccine until 2023 or 2024. In terms of public health, this is a threat to the system and to population’s well-being. It also translates to bad news for economic recovery and creates an opportunity for the virus to mutate. Ebrard urged the international community to strengthen cooperation. “We must act urgently to reverse the injustice that is being committed, because the security of all humanity depends on it," he said during the Security Council meeting.

During Mexico Health Summit 2021, UK Ambassador to Mexico, Corin Robertson, also stressed the need for international cooperation to break inequality, especially regarding vaccine access. Robertson mentioned five pivotal points to face the pandemic as a united front:

  1. Setting up a worldwide network of zoonotic research hubs to spot a new pandemic before it starts.
  2. Developing manufacturing capacity for treatments and vaccines.
  3. Designing an early warning system to predict a coming health crisis, which would require strengthening in the ability to collect and analyze samples and distribute the findings, using health data-sharing agreements among all countries.
  4. Agreeing on global protocols to prepare for a future health emergency, which would include information sharing and PPE supplies.
  5. Reducing trade barriers which have impeded a proper response against COVID-19.
Photo by:   Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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