Global COVID-19 vaccine deficit is a scandal

The revelation in a World Health Organization (WHO) statement that just 20% of people in low- and lower-middle-income countries will have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of this year is a scandal of epic proportions.

Around 80% of people in high- and upper-middle-income countries have already received a first vaccine dose, according to the WHO.

Sharan Burrow, the ITUC General Secretary, said: “This represents a monumental failure that could have been avoided and must be fixed without delay. Many lives will continue to be lost, many will fall sick in countries that lack adequate healthcare provision, livelihoods will continue to be disrupted and it adds enormously to the potential for new variants of concern to emerge.”

US$10 billion has been raised to date by the COVAX facility through which countries can access vaccine supplies, while nine Covid-19 billionaires have amassed a total of US$19.2 billion between them. Another eight existing billionaire investors in Covid vaccine production have increased their wealth by a total of US$32.2 billion.

Future pandemics

Sharan Burrow added: “The injustice is simply staggering. Intellectual property restrictions on vaccines and other vital pandemic goods must be lifted with a WTO TRIPS waiver. While it is welcome that Australia has now decided to support a waiver, a handful of countries still stand in the way, including Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico and Norway.

“The European Union is also blocking progress, and we fully support the ETUC demand that the EU end its opposition. We need a TRIPS waiver, coupled with investment and industry policy to urgently expand production capacity in regional production hubs.

And along with vaccines, less wealthy countries need more Covid testing capacity, including rapid tests, more medical and personal protective equipment and more healthcare workers. The world needs a greater emphasis on prevention, and we must build resilience for this and future pandemics.”