Politicians and health officials have publicly pledged to share equitably any effective coronavirus vaccine, but the main global initiative to do so would allow wealthy countries to build up stocks and make fewer doses available to the poor.
Many voices warn that without more vigorous attempts to hold political, pharmaceutical and health authorities to account, wealthy countries will bundle vaccines in an improper competition to inoculate their populations first. After the recent scandal when the United States acquired a large quantity of a new drug against COVID-19, some predict an even more disturbing situation if an effective vaccine is created.
Dozens of vaccines are being investigated, and some countries, such as Britain, France, Germany and the United States, have ordered millions of doses when they have not yet been shown to be effective.
While no country can buy doses of all the vaccines under study, many of the poor cannot afford that speculative expense.
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The key initiative to help them is spearheaded by Gavi, a public-private partnership started by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that purchases vaccines for 60% of the world’s children.
In a document sent to potential donors last month, Gavi said that those who contribute to his “Covax Facility” will have “the opportunity to benefit from a broader portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines.” Gavi told donor governments that when an effective vaccine is found between the experimental injections, these countries will receive vaccines for 20% of their population, to be used according to the wishes of each country.
That means rich countries can sign contracts on their own with pharmaceutical companies and then get unconditional allowances from Gavi. Donor countries “are encouraged (but not compelled) to donate vaccines if they have more than they need,” the document says.
“By giving rich countries this back-up plan, they give them the best chance,” said Anna Marriott of Oxfam International. “They can buy the entire supply in advance, which limits what Gavi can distribute to the rest of the world.”
Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley said those criticisms do not help.
Right now there is no vaccine for anyone, he said, and “we are trying to solve that problem.”