The G-7, G-21, World Bank, IMF, United Nations, WHO and each nation around the world failed to save thousands of lives that could have been protected with the vaccines. Those infected people who are dying due to lack of oxygen support in India, Nepal and elsewhere could have never been infected or would have never been severely sick, even if infected, if they had gotten the vaccines they rightly deserved.
Let me cut to the chase and take you right into the brutal reality: money buys vaccines. If your country bought the vaccines from the vaccine manufacturers then you get the vaccines. If it does not, and rather decide or wait on the donated vaccine (or simply beg), you do not get the vaccines.
The low-income countries are not coming up with money to buy vaccines rather than waiting for the donations but the high-income countries are not donating enough. The victims are the general people of the low or middle income countries.
The seven countries with the highest income in the world, also called the G-7, have a combined wealth of tens of trillions of dollars. The next 21 countries with the highest income, called the G21, have wealth that surpasses several trillions.
These 28 countries control the world’s financial institutions—World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and WHO. If these countries were honestly serious about saving lives, they could have come up with the funds to vaccinate the entire population a few times over.
If the rich countries were honestly serious about saving lives, they could have come up with the funds to vaccinate the entire population a few times over.
The low-income countries too are responsible for the fate of their citizens. Most of them have funds to purchase the vaccines. They may have to be earmarked for other programs or projects. But they need to prioritize and mobilize these funds for the vaccines. They simply need to gather all the funds by halting other projects or programs. If they are honest about saving the lives of their citizens they should not be waiting for the donated vaccines but buy them.
The apartheid of our time is the vaccine apartheid. Close to two billion doses of vaccines have been inoculated so far, but a tiny fraction of that (100 million or five percent) doses has gone to the middle and low-income countries. Most of them have been consumed by high-income countries.
We are the helpless spectators of this unfolding drama. The drama where there is more supply of vaccine than there is demand in the high-income countries. While the opposite is the case in the middle and low-income countries.
If the WHO is to truly represent the low and middle-income countries it needs to garner adequate funds to purchase vaccines that are sufficient for the entire population.
The drama where high-income countries are cajoling their citizens to get vaccinated with lottery tickets and prizes because there is low motivation to get vaccinated, but there is a long wait to get vaccinated in the middle and the low-income countries.
The scheme to make an equitable distribution of vaccines to the world’s majority of the people known as Covid Vaccine Global Access or Covax Facility has flatly failed. It failed to secure enough vaccines for them. It was barely able to get five percent of total manufactured vaccines to the low and middle-income countries when it was expected to get them over 50 percent. On the other hand, 95 percent of the vaccines have gone to a handful of the high-income countries. The five percent of the total vaccines WHO could secure through the Covax Facility was divided to a whopping 126 countries. The share most of the countries got out of that was hardly enough to vaccinate five percent in each of these countries.
So what is the fix? It is straightforward. Buy more vaccines from companies that produce vaccines and give those to the world’s desperate population who are dying with the lack of vaccines. The fact is undeniable, big pharmaceutical companies and their stockholders want to make a huge profit out of the vaccines they have produced. Another fact is that these companies received huge contributions from tax payers to produce those vaccines.
These companies hold the patent (intellectual property) to produce these vaccines. There has been a rhetorical call to end the patents of these companies so that the companies in low and middle-income countries could use their ‘formula’ to produce those vaccines. They are never going to part away their ‘license to make money’, or in other words, the intellectual property. The only solution to get enough supply of vaccine is to buy from these vaccine manufacturers.
We are the helpless spectators of this unfolding drama where there is more supply of vaccines than demand in the high-income countries, while there is a long wait to get vaccinated in the middle and the low-income countries.
An estimated 7.7 billion people are living on the planet. It costs 30-50 billion dollars to vaccinate the entire population of the planet. This amount, though seems a lot, is not impossible to garner if the leaders of the G7 and G20 countries are truly committed to saving lives of the people.
WHO has failed to do its due diligence that made uncountable people susceptible to infection; many of those ended up in unnecessary deaths. In order to prevent the loss of further lives, it needs to consistently urge the G20 and G7 countries to fund vaccination drives to immunize the entire world’s population. If the WHO is to truly represent the low and middle-income countries it needs to garner adequate funds to purchase vaccines that are sufficient for the entire population.
Dr Sanjeeb Sapkota, a Medical Epidemiologist, currently leads the Health Committee of Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA). He lives in Atlanta with his family.