Written by Dr. Mary Theresa (Terry) Webb, West Lampeter. This piece was first published here, the LancasterSpeaksUp.com blog, on June 21, 2021 with permission from the author. It has been submitted to LancasterOnline/LNP for consideration as a Letter to the Editor. UPDATE: This piece was published on June 28, 2021 in LancasterOnline/LNP.
Now that we, Americans, have a surplus of vaccines and monetary incentives allure the vaccine hesitant to get their shots to prevent Covid-19 from killing us, what about the rest of the world? Delta and other variants threaten the unvaccinated in low-income countries around the world. Halting the pandemic may mean making vaccines global public property, accessible to all. One patent litigation attorney, Ben Bourke, says that “providing public access to vaccines during a pandemic is paramount.”
In Uganda, where I have led mission trips, they have just begun to vaccinate health care workers and the elderly with vaccines donated by COVAX, a vaccine alliance. The World Health Organization (WHO) set up this Gavi COVAX pool of vaccines for 92 African and other low-income countries. Their plan is to reach 20% of these countries’ populations with Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021. However, it still needs $50 billion more to purchase vaccines from pharmaceutical companies. The Linda and Bill Gates Foundation and UNICEF have donated funds to COVAX for this purpose. Global Citizen has set up a Recovery Plan for the World so that any citizen from the global community of nations may contribute online for this purpose.
Currently, COVAX relies on donations of surpluses from developed countries. At their recent G-7 meeting, leaders of member countries pledged to donate 870 million Covid-19 doses, half to be delivered by the end of 2021. Although WHO’s director, Tedros Ghebreyesus, welcomes their pledged donations, he needs 2 billion doses by that date in order to stem the spread of the pandemic. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have been slow to respond to donate to the pool. COVAX has only been able to contract with Pfizer and Oxford Astra-Zeneca to contribute vaccines. Moderna promised vaccines in 2022.
Two factors may hold up the worldwide need for vaccinations even further: a lag in WHO approval of what vaccines can be in the pool and the stalled effort by the World Trade Organization to waive Intellectual Property protections for vaccines. Some companies don’t want their trade secrets revealed. Although Moderna has pledged to not enforce patents relating to its mNRA vaccine, Pfizer has not done so.
The United States has agreed to promote voluntary licensing of the Covid-19 vaccines and not-for-profit global production. But promotion alone will not meet the need for vaccine justice.
While determination of whether public health interests take precedence over profits is yet unclear, the Covid-19 virus and its variants rage on. You can help today by donating through Global Citizen’s website: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/involved/donate.
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