Public health experts have said the pandemic could be needlessly prolonged by “vaccine nationalism”, with countries hoarding their supplies or placing export controls on critical equipment or ingredients.
Governments in predominantly wealthy countries are negotiating to buy nearly 8.8bn doses of prospective Covid-19 vaccines in a “frenzy of deals” that could mean many poor countries would not get access to immunisation until at least 2024, a study by Duke University’s global health innovation centre calculated.
None of the 320-plus potential vaccines in development have been approved for use , however, manufacturers will only be able to produce so much of the successful candidates, with researchers estimating it could take three to four years to supply enough vaccine to immunise the global population. That means many wealthy countries may be able to vaccinate their entire populations several times over before most people in low-income countries are immunised, the report said.
“Countries are acting in their own interests, which makes senses,” said Andrea Taylor, an assistant director at the Duke centre. “The problem it leads to is a pattern of behaviour globally where we are limited in the number of doses we can produce in the first year or two … And so many are getting taken off the market and snatched up and reserved for high-income countries, leaving potentially very little for low- and middle-income countries.” Many wealthy countries had invested in the Covax facility and struck their own deals directly with pharmaceutical companies, Taylor said, cutting down on the pool of doses that would be equitably distributed. “They’re giving with one hand and taking with the other,” Taylor said.
The study confirmed that Covax has purchased enough vaccine so far to immunise about 250 million people – well short of the 1.14 billion people it has pledged to cover.
Ethiopia, for example, will receive enough doses of successful vaccines to cover 20% of its population under Covax, but has not struck any other side deals, meaning most of its citizens could go unvaccinated for years after British residents have been immunised.