World leaders meeting at Wednesday’s Covid-19 summit have been urged to take “immediate and bold” action in combating the “grotesque inequity” that has prevented life-saving vaccine doses from reaching the world’s poorest people and nations.
In a letter sent to members of the UN General Assembly, more than 50 global health groups and experts have called for “sea-change” in the global pandemic response, warning that a failure to increase supplies to unvaccinated countries will result in the deaths of millions of more people and the loss of trillions of dollars from the world economy.
The likes of Oxfam, Amnesty International, ActionAid International, MSF and Global Justice Now have all signed the letter, which urges heads of state attending the vaccine summit - convened alongside this week’s General Assembly session - to “correct the mistakes” that have been made throughout 2021 in rolling out the Covid jabs.
Just 2 per cent of people living in the world’s poorest countries have been vaccinated, with 10,000 people dying every day from infection, the letter warns.
“The grotesque inequity in access to Covid-19 technologies is depriving people in developing countries of life saving vaccines and is responsible for unnecessary loss of life,” it reads, adding that such inequality will prolong the pandemic and increase the risk of new vaccine-resistant variants emerging.
“Having vaccinated the majority of their people, rich countries are also purchasing millions more doses for boosters while failing to reallocate excess doses to redress vaccine inequality,” the campaigners write.
The letter sets out five demands for summit leaders: commit to a global plan to vaccinate 70 per cent by the middle of 2022; share vaccine technology and require pharmaceutical companies to do the same; waive intellectual property rights; invest public funding to increase vaccine R&D and manufacturing capacity in lower-income countries; and reallocate vaccine doses “urgently”.
“We urge you to rise to the huge responsibility of saving millions of lives from this pandemic by urgently taking the above actions to ensure that all people in all countries have access to Covid-19 vaccines,” the letter says.
At the virtual Covid-19 summit US President Joe Biden is hosting on Wednesday, leaders are also expected to address oxygen shortages around the globe and deal with other critical pandemic-related issues.
It comes on the back of the controversial decision of US and UK health officials to roll out booster doses for elderly and vulnerable groups, at a time when millions of people across the world have yet to be offered a single jab.
The World Health Organisation has urged Western nations to hold off on booster programmes until the end of the year to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of its population.
The Biden administration has pushed back on criticism, arguing that the US has enough doses to vaccinate Americans while also sharing more vaccines globally than any other nation.
So far, America has distributed 140 million vaccine doses to approximately 100 countries. In total, the US intends to distribute 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the coming months, with President Biden reportedly set to propose during Wednesday’s meeting that governments aim to help vaccinate 70 per cent of the world’s population within the next year.
The UK has meanwhile pledged to donate 100 million surplus coronavirus vaccine doses to the world.
However, in their letter to world leaders, the campaigners and public health experts warned that “of the insufficient doses promised for reallocation by the G7 and EU, only 15 per cent have been delivered to date. In some cases, redistributed doses arrive too close to their expiry date to save lives.”
Mohga Kamal Yanni, a senior policy advisor to the People's Vaccine Alliance, said “vaccine apartheid is a moral stain on the world’s response to Covid-19” and insisted the Covid summit “must be a turning point”. She added: “We have no more time or lives to waste.”
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