What Do We Do About Distribution?
COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a lottery, with some countries faring much better than others
Stephanie Sutton | | Opinion
Over 70 percent of people over the age of 18 have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the UK. And over 40 percent have received two doses.
But when it comes to my country’s progress, I can’t say I’m particularly proud. The UK has received a steady supply of vaccines ever since the first approvals. Meanwhile in some low-income countries, even frontline healthcare workers have not yet been vaccinated. And in other wealthy EU countries, there are still substantial numbers of vulnerable people who are not vaccinated. I have four relatives (aged 63–75) living overseas in EU countries; two have received a first dose but were turned away from booked appointments to receive their second doses because of a lack of supply (one month later and still no sign). The remaining pair have yet to receive their first dose...
In a post written for the London School of Economics and Political Science’s EUROPP blog, Gareth Davies reported that EU states agreed early on that it would be “unacceptable” for some states to vaccinate their populations while others had nothing (1). Vaccines have been distributed in the EU on a per capita basis. Meanwhile, the UK is rapidly vaccinating people in their early thirties. Details of contracts between pharma manufacturers and various governments have not been revealed, but it could be that UK contracts have clauses for preferential supply. British nationalists have applauded the UK’s shrewd negotiating skills. Though I am grateful that I can be vaccinated, I’m not able to justify the fact that I am receiving it ahead of others who need it more. Clearly, there are inequalities in global vaccine distribution.
Some believe that a waiver on COVID-19 vaccine patents may help. In a shock announcement last month, the Biden administration declared that the US would support such a move, despite the US previously opposing patent waivers (2). But pharma industry advocates, including IFPMA, PhRMA and EFPIA, are strongly against interfering with patents – and claim that it could damage the global battle against the virus by distracting from the manufacturing and scale up challenges.
I can’t say if patent waivers are the correct way forward. There are powerful arguments on both sides of the debate (read more here). But I do know that desperate times call for desperate measures – and a global death toll of over 3.5 million sounds desperate to me. We need to thoroughly explore all avenues to see if they have merit – even if they may be controversial in some camps.