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A Global Vaccine Apartheid – Lives before profits (COVID-19 Update)

An adaptation of an article by Winnie Byanyima- UNAIDS Executive Director.

Winnie Byanyima points out that nine months ago, many world leaders were all in support of declaring any COVID-19 vaccine as a global public good. However, as vaccines have begun to roll out in huge numbers, Winnie observes a growing disparity in how the vaccines are distributed. According to the executive director of UNAIDS, there is growing vaccine apartheid that only serves the interests of powerful and profitable pharmaceutical corporations globally. However, this discrimination is costing every human the quickest and least harmful route out of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

The most concerning situation is the distribution of overpriced vaccines in South Africa, a country that suffered heavy consequences in the past due to its HIV epidemic and the monopolization of HIV drugs by large pharmaceutical corporations. South Africa has had to pay more than double the price paid by the European Union for the AstraZeneca vaccine for fewer doses than is necessary to immunize its population properly. Therefore, South Africa, just like many low and middle-income countries, faces a vaccine scarcity and reduced purchasing power.

The statistic for the projected number of people likely to get the vaccine in the poorest countries is one out of ten (1/10). This means only 10% of the population in the poorest countries is expected to get the vaccine. However, the delays in production and distribution make the 10% statistic seem like an optimistic one. Winnie states that the high prices of vaccines in poorer countries threaten to push more countries into deeper debts and reduce access. She warns that if this vaccine distribution model is continued, the world is likely to fail at getting the pandemic under control for a few years to come.

The formal executive director of Oxfam International also explains that the real cost of the high vaccine prices is the loss of millions of lives and livelihoods globally. In addition, she notes that the lack of vaccines in poorer countries can impede vaccine effectiveness in countries that have access to them. This is because the longer the virus is allowed to fester on poorer communities, the greater the chances of its mutation, which could render the vaccines we currently have useless. This means the process made by richer countries can be rendered useless if they refuse to extend the accessibility to vaccines to poorer countries soon enough.

The advisory board member, Equality Now, advises that the best way to ensure vaccine accessibility in poorer countries, governments across the world need to back the proposed temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests until the world reaches the critically needed herd immunity.

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A global vaccine apartheid is unfolding. People’s lives must come before profit. Retrieved from UNAIDS website: