Big Pharma preventing vaccine access to low-income countries, says Amnesty report

In many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, hospitals and health workers are severely under-resourced and struggling to obtain vaccines. New variants like the Delta variant further weaken a public health system that is already in danger of collapsing. [Byron Ortiz/Shutterstock]

In low-income countries, the fully vaccinated account for less than 1% of the population compared to the 55% fully vaccinated in rich countries, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Wednesday (22 September), which accuses pharmaceutical companies of obstructing access to vaccines. EURACTIV France reports.

Big Pharma companies, which could have been hailed as “heroes” for providing effective vaccines to fight the global pandemic, are criticised by Amnesty in its report for refusing to relinquish their intellectual property rights and for failing to deliver vaccines to developing countries.

The pharmaceutical companies supplying the COVID-19 vaccine are creating “an unprecedented human rights crisis”, the report warns.

“Shamefully for them and sadly for us, Big Pharma’s intentional blocking of technology transfers and its commercial manoeuvring to benefit rich countries has created a highly predictable and devastating vaccine shortage for so many others,” Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, said.

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In many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, hospitals and health workers are severely under-resourced and struggling to obtain vaccines. New variants like the Delta variant have furthered weakened public health systems already in danger of collapsing.

“In many low-income countries, even health workers and people at risk are not vaccinated,” said Callamard.

While 26.4% of Bolivia’s population and 15% of Venezuela’s population are fully vaccinated, the situation is even direr on the African continent.

In Niger, barely 0.4% of the population is fully vaccinated, while 0.2% are fully vaccinated in Chad. Only Morocco is doing well, as 17.4 million people or 47.8% of the population are fully vaccinated.

By comparison, 64.2% of the French population is now vaccinated, while the figure is 76% in Spain and 81% in Portugal.

In mid-April, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), revealed that one in four people were vaccinated in some rich countries, while some low-income countries only had 500 people vaccinated.

At the time, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “unacceptable”, adding that “the time has come to share.”

70% of adults in the EU fully vaccinated against COVID

More than 256 million adults in the EU are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as the rate among the adult population reached 70% on Tuesday (31 August), which the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen called “a great achievement”.

BioNTech, Moderna and Pfizer set to make €130 billion by end of 2022

Amnesty International has criticised pharma companies for favouring profit over solidarity. Moderna, for instance, has not yet delivered any vaccine doses to any low-income countries and has allocated 12% of its production to middle-income countries. Moderna “will not fulfil the vast majority of its orders for COVAX until 2022”, the report added.

And while AstraZeneca has delivered the most doses to low-income countries, “it has refused to openly share its expertise and technology with the World Health Organization (WHO) initiatives,” Amnesty International added.

The international organisation also criticised pharma giants for making billions in profits from the pandemic. According to the report, BioNTech, Moderna and Pfizer are set to earn a combined total of $130 billion by the end of 2022.

“Profit should never come before human lives,” said Callamard.

African Union slams vaccine manufacturers for restricting access

The African Union on Tuesday (14 September) accused manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines of denying African countries a fair chance to buy them, and urged manufacturing countries – in particular India – to lift export restrictions on vaccines and their components.

Europe and COVAX

The WHO-led COVAX mechanism is supposed to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccine doses to low-income countries. The EU, one of the scheme’s main contributors, announced last February that it was doubling its contribution to the scheme, bringing it to €1 billion, though it has delivered fewer than 10% of the vaccines it has promised to donate.

“With this new financial boost, we want to make sure vaccines are soon delivered to low and middle-income countries. Because we will only be safe if the whole world is safe,” said European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen.

While many MEPs welcomed the EU’s financial commitment to help the poorest countries, they pointed to delays in the delivery of vaccines.

“COVAX is a total failure. We were supposed to deliver 660 million doses and not even 100 million doses have arrived in developing countries,” said Green/EFA member Michèle Rivasi at a press conference on the European Health Union on 10 September.

EU countries have promised to donate 1.3 billion doses to 92 developing countries by the end of 2021, which would ensure 20% are vaccinated in each country.

Amnesty International, for its part, is calling for “two billion doses of vaccine to be delivered to low- and lower-middle-income countries” by the end of the year.

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It …

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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