Shopping for an anti-coronavirus drug?
Too late. A handful of rich countries have ‘cleared the shelves’ – buying up more supply than their populations actually need.
Canada, with a population of 37.6 million, leads the pack, ordering enough vaccine for its population times six. The U.S., with a population of 328 million, has secured 100 million doses from Pfizer, 200 million from Moderna and 810 million doses from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Sanofi combined, for a combined total of 1.5 billion.
Other wealthy nations have joined the U.S. in placing large preorders, often with options to expand the deals and acquire even more — undermining many countries’ ability to make timely purchases.
“We are dealing with an incredibly competitive global environment,” said Canada’s minister of procurement, Anita Anand. “It’s very much the long game here.”
To protect the rights of vulnerable groups in 190 economies, COVAX, an international body, was launched by the World Health Organization, the European Commission and France to ensure that people worldwide would get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved.
The aim is to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021 to protect high risk and vulnerable people as well as frontline healthcare workers. Some experts predict it will be 2024 before there is enough vaccine.
As stark disparities in vaccine access become more visible, pressure will be mounting on wealthy countries to alter their plans. Lois Chingandu, a member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said she lived in fear of contracting Covid-19 if her country, Zimbabwe, could not obtain enough vaccine.
In the late 1990s, Ms. Chingandu worked in HIV prevention and watched thousands of people die from AIDS each day. Medicine was available to stop it – but only to those who could afford it.
Ms. Chingandu and the People’s Vaccine want drug companies to share the intellectual property so that generic forms of the vaccine can be made.
The World Trade Organization is undecided whether to waive intellectual property rules for Covid vaccines. The proposal has won support from some countries but is opposed by many Western countries.
“People are going to die of Covid,” says Ms Chingandu in frustration, “while people in other countries are living a normal life… Eventually when the privileged decide that it’s time to save the poor people, then we will get the vaccine,” she told the BBC.