It remains to be seen how dangerous the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is. Early evidence suggests that it may be more contagious Than other variants, and World Health Organization raised concerns About the potential to cause another global surge in infectious diseases.
Vaccinated people in developed countries should be able to sigh in relief if the vaccines currently available continue to protect us from the serious illnesses and deaths that are likely to occur at this stage.
However, due to the yawning gap in immunization rates between high-income and low-income countries, Omicron can pose a major problem to the world. It can cause further waves of preventable illness and premature death in developing countries and exacerbate poverty in parts of the world already suffering from pandemics.
And unless the government takes urgent action to remedy these inequality, we risk the emergence of further variants, some of which may evade vaccines.
Inequality in access to the COVID-19 vaccine
By the end of November, about 54.2% of the world’s population had received at least one COVID-19 vaccination. However, in low-income countries The rate was only 5.8%..
On the other hand, the vaccination rate gap between high-income and high-middle-income countries, and Low-income countries On the other hand, it is particularly tough.
Immunization rates in Africa are of particular concern.Still about 40 countries Less than 10% of the population It is fully vaccinated and most of it is in Africa.
Experts have warned of the unfair distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine since the beginning of the pandemic, but why is it still a problem?
COVAX cannot fulfill that promise
First, COVAX, a global program for purchasing and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, has struggled to ensure adequate vaccine doses since its inception.
Almost 100 Low-income countries It depends on the vaccine program. COVAX initially aimed for 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. This is enough to vaccinate only the highest risk groups in developing countries.But the delivery forecast is Rewound in September Only 1,425 million doses by the end of the year.
And by the end of November Less than 576 million doses It was actually delivered.
This predictable failure is mainly Wealthy country Wipe off more than half of the first 7.5 billion vaccine doses Developed through a pre-purchase contract, leaving only COVAX bread crumbs.
Chronic underinvestment in COVAX (both in terms of dose and funding), and further hoarding vaccination Dose in wealthy countries for boosters continue to starve COVAX supplies to distribute to those in greatest need.
Unable to provide promised vaccine donations
Wealthy countries have been embarrassed to promise to donate large doses to low- and middle-income countries. However, some of these pledges have not yet been converted into armed vaccines.
On the other hand, many high-income countries ignore it. Petition from WHO Postpone the provision of boosters until the rest of the world catches up.Doctors Without Borders estimates that even after boosters have been administered, 10 high-income countries will sit. Overdose of 870 million times or more By the end of the year.
Take Australia as an example. Promised 60 million doses to developing countries in the Indo-Pacific region, but so far Less than 9.3 million delivered.. However, none of these doses are planned for fair distribution via COVAX and are currently not committed to Africa.
Meanwhile, the Australian Government has invested more than A $ 8 billion (US $ 5.7 billion). Pre-purchase contract for 280.8 million vaccinations For Australians. This is equivalent to 10 or more doses per person.
Disagree with temporary changes in trade rules
Some wealthy countries also continue to oppose proposals to temporarily suspend trade rules that protect pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly on COVID-19 health products and technology.
Initially Proposed by India and South Africa In October 2020, the so-called TRIPS exemption will give companies around the world the freedom to produce COVID-19 products and technologies without fear of proceedings regarding potential infringement of intellectual property rights.
Currently co-sponsored by 63 countries 100 of the 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization.. The United States announced support for the exemption (limited to vaccines) in May, but has not officially co-sponsored the proposal. The European Union, Britain and Switzerland continue to oppose, with Germany being a particularly strong opposition.
TRIPS exemption if adopted in Form sponsored by 63 countriesCovers all health products and technologies needed for COVID-19 prevention, treatment and containment, including vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests, medical devices and personal protective equipment.
It will abandon WTO rules Agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) Applies to patents, non-public information (information submitted to regulatory agencies, information protected as trade secrets, etc.), copyrights, and designs. And it lasts for at least three years from the date the exemption is adopted and is reviewed annually thereafter.
However, even now, more than a year after the exemption was proposed, discussions at the WTO are at a standstill.
The EU argues that it is sufficient to tweak the existing provisions of the TRIPS Agreement, which allows the use of compulsory licenses, the subject matter of patents, without the permission of the patentee. However, this does not include the non-public information required to manufacture the vaccine.
Many countries now include the UK, EU, China and Australia Support another proposal At the WTO dealing with other trade-related issues such as export restrictions and customs clearance. However, the intellectual property rights that maintain the monopoly of the COVID-19 product cannot be lifted.
To further delay the issue, the emergence of variants of Omicron has led to the postponement of this week’s WTO Ministerial Conference, where these proposals were to be discussed. Discussions will continue at the TRIPS Council in December, but the momentum to make short-term decisions may have been lost.
Urgent response is required
Wealthy countries store vaccines, starve funds and doses of COVAX, announce promised donations with slow dribbles, and remove barriers to wider production of vaccines in developing countries worldwide. The agreement on the agreement has been stalled.
We have to do better. Omicron variants clearly show that the world can’t afford to wait any longer.
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Wealthy countries starve vaccines in developing countries, and Omicron shows the price of this greed.
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