Five reasons why Covax is not enough to end vaccine apartheid
The roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK is a cause for celebration, after a year of grief and loss, the hope it has created is incredibly welcome. But a global pandemic needs a global solution. Instead of being affordable and manufactured on the scale necessary, the vaccine is being hoarded by wealthy nations, leaving countries in the global south priced out and vulnerable. Rich governments and big corporations are touting Covax as an easy solution, but is it the answer?
The Covax facility was set up by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi the vaccine alliance, and the World Health Organisation (WHO). At first glance, Covax seems to be what we’re looking for – a commitment to collectively purchase the vaccine, and then distribute it fairly to every country in the world. However, given the reliance on profiteering pharmaceutical companies, it is not that simple. Here are 5 reasons why relying on Covax is not enough to combat vaccine apartheid:
Covax does not challenge pharmaceutical monopolies
Pharmaceutical companies operate on monopolies; this means that only they can produce their products. Companies claim monopolies help to produce innovation, but actually just work to boost profits on life-saving medicines. Access to medicine should not be controlled by single companies, and the Covid-19 vaccine is no different.
Rich countries are serving themselves first
While the Covax facility has pledged to provide 2 billion vaccines across the world this year, to both self-financing countries and what they call Advance Market Commitment countries, wealthy nations are still hoarding the vaccine. Despite contributing £548 million to Covax, the UK government has also hoarded several times the number of vaccines needed for its population. It’s clear that they are pursuing a UK-first policy, rather than ensuring global equitable access to the vaccine.
2 billion vaccines is not nearly enough for global demand
As the vaccine is still under the jurisdiction of pharmaceutical companies and their monopolies, the pledge of 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 does not even come close to ensuring herd immunity, especially for low and middle income countries reliant on Covax.
Covax does not require manufacturers to sell the vaccine at cost price
Covax is a price-taker and has not demanded cost-prices from big pharma. The AstraZeneca vaccine is the cheapest vaccine so far, costing as little as $2.15 per dose. However, despite a commitment from AstraZeneca to not profit during the pandemic, the vaccine has already been offered to Uganda for over three times the price it was sold to EU countries.
Covax ignores the role of patents in restricting manufacturing of the vaccine
There are calls from countries in the global south to suspend the current patent system for Covid-19 treatments. Patents on medicine mean that only the corporation which owns that patent can produce it. In the case of the Covid-19 vaccine this means that there are factories and manufacturers standing idle, unable to produce any of the vaccine. Releasing these patents on the vaccine would help to allow many more doses to be produced.
Pharmaceutical companies stand to profit billions every year from Covid-19 vaccines. Access to medicine and healthcare should never be at the mercy of profit, and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that health crises can’t be solved by global corporations. Covid-19 is a virus, and left unchecked, it could mutate and become resistant to the existing vaccinations. The only way to ensure the pandemic is truly over is the fair distribution of vaccines to all countries, regardless of income.
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