Boris Johnson’s announcement of donating 100 million surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses lacks the scale and systemic solutions desperately required to end this pandemic. After buying up enough doses to vaccinate the whole UK population nearly four times over and soon to be sitting on a massive stockpile, it was only going to be a matter of time till the UK Government was going to donate. But 100 million doses – or even the total G7’s ambition of 1 billion doses – is only a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to ensure global vaccine access.
COVAX, the global initiative supporting lower income countries to access vaccines, is facing an immediate shortfall of 190 million doses. Unicef is urging G7 countries to donate 20 percent of their vaccines between June and August – over 150 million doses – as a temporary stopgap measure to compensate for this shortfall. Despite this urgent need and escalating global health crisis; the UK only looks to donate 5 million doses by the end of September.
In the announcement, the UK Government also heralds AstraZeneca and states the Prime Minister’s ambition to push others to adopt their approach. Whilst their commitment to charge a not for profit price is welcome – albeit for only for the duration of the pandemic, which they have the right to declare over – there are serious failures in AstraZeneca’s approach.
AstraZeneca is refusing to openly share the vaccine recipe and know-how beyond a limited set of selected manufacturing partners. This has led to limited production, high income country markets being prioritised over others and unfair pricing. For example, in purchasing through the Serum Institute, Uganda paid three times as much for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine compared to the EU. COVAX’s over-reliance on the Serum Institute to produce the Oxford-AstraZeneca has also rendered the mechanism able to deliver only a third of the vaccines it had aimed to by this point.
Whilst an important step, vaccine donations won’t deliver a sustainable response or help advance future pandemic preparedness. Waiving intellectual property rules on successful vaccines and enforcing technology transfer could ensure that every qualified vaccine manufacturer worldwide is able to make Covid-19 vaccines. It will also help bolster scientific collaboration so that all countries can develop the pandemic tools they need to effectively respond to new variants.
We urge the G7 to immediately support the suspension of intellectual property rules and insist companies share the vaccine technology with the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. This would mean all qualified manufacturers worldwide can help in scaling up vaccine production and would also help to drive down prices. Rather than continuing to push non ambitious targets, the UK should agree to a global goal to vaccinate 60% of the world by the end of 2021 and with everyone reached in the next 12 months.
The UK Government is still opposed to the proposed Waiver on intellectual property for Covid-19 tools at the World Trade Organisation. With the US, France, the European Parliament all backing it – and Japan stating it won’t block the process – the UK is looking increasingly isolated. If the UK is serious about ‘ending the pandemic in 2022’, we urge them to stop defending the indefensible monopolies and profit of pharmaceutical giants and show the genuine leadership that the G7 Presidency calls for.
James Cole – firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 07421992348