A year ago, the barrier to beating Covid-19 was science. Today it is inequality. We have the ability to vaccinate the world and to end this pandemic. But instead, rich countries are hoarding vaccines and protecting the profits of their pharmaceutical corporations instead of saving lives.
Covid anywhere is Covid everywhere. To end this pandemic, we need a vaccine that is free, fair, and available to all. We need a People’s Vaccine.
Putting profits over people: the cost of vaccine inequality
The Covid-19 vaccine story reveals both the best and worst of humanity. We have developed the vaccine in record time and the production is astronomical compared to previous years. Yet, while rich countries are vaccinating 1 person every second, the majority of poor countries are yet to give a single dose.
A handful of pharmaceutical corporations dictate the manufacturing, distribution, and cost of the vaccine. They use patents and other intellectual property rights to stop other companies from making the vaccines or medicines they have developed. They have a monopoly on how many doses are produced, who gets them and what price they pay. These corporations get to decide who lives and who dies.
G7 countries have received roughly 1 in every 5 doses (2 billion) distributed so far, while low-income countries have received just 0.5% (33 million).
The cost to the economy of failing to vaccinate the world is estimated to be $9 trillion. Providing a vaccine to everyone on earth is less than 1% of this cost.
Covid vaccines created 9 new billionaires with combined wealth greater than cost of vaccinating world's poorest countries.
A People’s Vaccine, the best hope to truly putting an end to the Covid-19 pandemic
The exclusive rights and intellectual property of pharmaceutical corporations over Covid-19 vaccines are artificially rationing supply and driving up prices. Too few vaccines are being made as these companies simply cannot produce the necessary doses for everyone on the planet.
While the vast majority of Covid-19 vaccines have gone to the wealthiest countries, countries in the global south are currently unlikely to receive a vaccine until 2023. This threatens everyone as no-one is safe until everyone is safe.
The best hope we have to truly putting an end to the Covid-19 pandemic is making all vaccines accessible to every single person on this planet. A vaccine that is mass-produced, fairly distributed, and free of charge to everyone, everywhere, regardless of how much money they have or where they live. Here are 3 reasons why we need it now:
We won't end the pandemic if only wealthy people in developed countries get the vaccine because they can afford to pay. We know that rich countries have bought more vaccine doses than they could ever use, while the rest of the world has minimal access to protection. This is entirely self-defeating. The virus is mutating all the time. This means the vaccines that the rich and powerful are presently hoarding could be ineffective within a year – posing a risk to us all. The spread of variants that are more easily transmissible and potentially more deadly make the need for more vaccine doses even more pressing.
Most of the research and development costs for the Covid vaccines have been funded by public money. Big pharmaceutical corporations got more than $10 billion in taxpayer dollars to develop and produce them. What we need now is for these companies to be transparent about the true costs it takes to produce the vaccines they are developing, and then to sell them at affordable prices. They should not set the vaccine price to benefit their shareholders and CEOs at the expense of our health. All vaccines should be a global public good, not a private profit opportunity.
Our world is in a health and economic crisis, massively impacting the poorest people. They are bearing the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic, while wealthy shareholders and corporations are making major profits. As the pandemic drags on, the world risks setting back the fight against poverty by years, if not decades. With a people’s vaccine, we can ensure that the poorest people recover faster. If we fail to do this, we risk further widening the inequality gaps between rich and poor.
5 steps to end the vaccine apartheid
The world is facing a vaccine apartheid. Insufficient supply combined with rich country hoarding of doses mean billions of people are unprotected facing the threat of illness and death from this cruel disease. Governments and corporations are failing to make what should be the easiest possible choice: saving millions of lives by providing equal access to the Covid-19 vaccines.
World leaders must agree and implement a clear and ambitious plan, based on what is needed:
Raise the ambition to vaccinate 60% of the planet. We are not going to end this pandemic by vaccinating fewer than 30% of the world’s population in the next six months. This process should be funded with fair share financing from rich nations, and fair allocation of doses.
Break the barriers of intellectual property on vaccines and Covid-19 knowledge. This will allow every nation to produce or buy vaccine doses at affordable rates. Governments must suspend patent rules and force pharmaceutical companies to share their related technology and know-how.
Make an immediate and large investment of public money into manufacturing more vaccine doses around the world. We have seen a clear failure of the market alone in ensuring enough vaccines. We need to build a global network to deliver these doses as public goods to all nations.
Provide Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and tests free of charge. To everyone, everywhere, allocated according to need. Prioritize frontline health workers, people at higher risk, and resource-poor countries least able to save the lives of those infected with the virus.
Scale up global financial support for upgrading and expanding public health systems. We can use the experience of the pandemic to create resilient, universal and equitable health systems around the world. These services should be free at the point of use, with all user fees eliminated.
It’s not every day you get to decide to save the world, but that is the choice facing governments and corporations right now. By agreeing to take these five clear steps, they have the chance to turn this crisis around.
This moment can still be remembered in history as the time we chose to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of the commercial monopolies of the few. We have to act now.
A growing movement
Oxfam is a member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of organisations and activists united under a common aim of campaigning for a ‘People’s Vaccine’ for Covid-19 that is based on shared knowledge and is freely available to everyone everywhere. More than 2.7 million people around the world have already taken action, join them!