In a speech Wednesday on the importance of “ensur[ing] that everybody, everywhere, can be vaccinated as soon as possible,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres criticized what he called the “wildly uneven and unfair” coronavirus vaccination process that puts millions at “risk of being left behind.”
“Just 10 countries have administered 75% of all Covid-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose,” Guterres said.
As the pandemic’s global death toll surpassed 2,430,000, Guterres described how “Covid-19 continues its merciless march across the world—upending lives, destroying economies, and undermining the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, or parts of it, it will mutate again and again,” Guterres cautioned. “New variants could become more transmissible, more deadly and, potentially, threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics.”
“This can prolong the pandemic significantly,” he added, “enabling the virus to come back to plague the Global North. It will also delay the world economic recovery.”
Progress on #COVID19 vaccinations has been wildly uneven & unfair.
The world urgently needs a Global Vaccination Plan to bring together all those with the required power, expertise & production capacities.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 17, 2021
The U.N. chief was echoing critiques and warnings made last month by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and late last year by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition that includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now, and Oxfam.
Guterres called for the G20, a group of highly industrialized countries, to establish an Emergency Task Force to create a Global Vaccination Plan and “coordinate its implementation and financing.” He said the task force “would have the capacity to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors,” and noted that “the G7 meeting later this week can help create the momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources.”
In addition to the dramatic gap in inoculation rates between rich and poor countries—a reality that critics of “vaccine nationalism” have dubbed “vaccine apartheid“—distribution within nations, including wealthy ones, has also been unjust, as Common Dreams has reported.
For months, progressives have demanded that Big Pharma and the World Trade Organization (WTO) suspend the intellectual property restrictions currently impeding rapid and equal access to coronavirus inoculation throughout the world.
All that is required to quickly and inexpensively manufacture an adequate global supply of vaccine doses to ensure free and timely access for all people worldwide, experts say, is for governments to exercise their power to revoke the pharmaceutical industry’s monopoly control and patent protections over products developed in large part thanks to public funding.
While President Joe Biden was praised last month for rejoining COVAX—the WHO-supported international vaccine initiative that former President Donald Trump shunned—critics told the Biden administration that it was “not enough.”
Guaranteeing the sufficient production and equitable distribution of doses on a global scale, said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, would require the United States to end its support for the WTO’s deadly prohibition on sharing vaccine knowledge and technology.
As Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) explained in a statement released earlier this week, the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) “requires WTO signatory countries to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests, and the technologies used to produce them, [but] these rules block countries and manufacturers from accessing the formulas and know-how needed to boost production for Covid-19 vaccines, limiting access for millions around the world.”
While “more than 100 nations are supporting a temporary, emergency ‘TRIPS waiver’… for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics,” that was introduced in October 2020 by India and South Africa, Schakowsky noted that “the Trump administration led the handful of countries opposed to the waiver at the WTO.”
On Thursday afternoon, Schakowsky was scheduled to join Mustaqeem da Gama, South African Counselor to the WTO, and representatives from Doctors Without Borders and Public Citizen for an emergency webinar “on the WTO-Big Pharma collusion that threatens global production of Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.”
Echoing Guterres, who described vaccine equity as “the biggest moral test before the global community,” Schakowsky said that “unless production is significantly increased, many people in developing countries won’t get vaccines until 2024.”
“The pandemic cannot be stopped anywhere,” she added, “unless people are vaccinated everywhere.”