The World Health Organization (WHO) recently said that countries in the Asia-Pacific region are not guaranteed to have early access to COVID-19 vaccines and urged them to adopt a long-term approach to the pandemic. While some countries that have independent vaccine purchase agreements might start vaccination campaigns in the coming months, others could see vaccination begin in the middle or late 2021 hopefully. 90% people in poor countries are unlikely to receive a COVID-19 vaccine next year as the world’s richest nations snap up a majority of the shots, according to The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a network of organizations including Amnesty International, Global Justice Now and Oxfam.
Major vaccine developers, including AstraZeneca, BioNtech/Pfizer and Moderna, estimated that they could produce up to 5.3 billion doses of their vaccines in 2021. As current tests indicate that these require two separate doses to be considered effective, the total amount produced could be enough for a little over a third of the world’s 7.6 billion people. With that comes a question of how vaccinations are assigned to different countries.
Rich nations, representing just 14% of the world’s population, have reportedly bought up 53% of all the most promising vaccines so far, giving wealthier nations the capacity to vaccinate their entire populations three times over. This claim though assumes that all vaccines will pass clinical trials and be approved.
It is already evident that, the rich countries of the world are going to receive the COVID-19 vaccines first and the poor ones will have to stand in the queue. Moreover, people from which class of the society will get the vaccine first remains a concern. Though all the nations are talking about the front-liners first policy, we have seen politicians receiving the vaccine first even in the affluent countries, which are already being criticized. People from lower and middle income groups might have to wait longer. Commercialization will play a vital part indeed.
Nobel laureate and social entrepreneur Dr Muhammad Yunus said the coronavirus vaccine has divided the world into vaccine haves and have-nots and there should not be any ownership rights of the vaccine to any corporate. He said the COVID-19 vaccine should be made ‘peoples vaccine’ like polio drops without anybody having any intellectual property rights. In June, Dr Yunus called on global leaders to make Covid-19 vaccines free for the common good. His petition on putting people ahead of pharma patents has received nearly one million signatures. 24 other Nobel laureates and 125 former presidents, prime ministers and eminent global figures joined him.
Notably, DrYunus was successful in bringing the world leaders together with his theory of microfinance which brought a major part of the lower income people under banking and financial spread and he was well appreciated for his works. But his plea to equally treat the people of the world for distribution of COVID-19 vaccine and its non-commercial aspect could not create much hype among the leaders of the materialistic leaders and also media.
Almost 100 countries are supporting a proposal to issue a broad-based general waiver on patents and other IP rights to all Covid-19 vaccines and medical technologies. A binding agreement to allow the vaccine to be patent-free could transform the situation dramatically by sending a clear message that the vaccine is a global common good.
Pope Francis also said it would be sad if the rich are given priority for the Covid-19 vaccine. It would be sad if the vaccine becomes property of this or that nation, if it is not universal and for everyone. This COVID-19 pandemic is not like any other pandemic as it has affected the whole world together in a very short span of time. No other virus was so widespread and did not hurt the global economy so badly.
The Bangladeshi government has chalked up a plan to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population, or about 138.2 million people. Serum Institute of India will deliver the shots developed by Britain’s University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Beximco Pharmaceuticals is the sole supplier of the vaccine in Bangladesh. The government will begin the vaccination by giving the first shots free of cost to those on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.
Bangladesh will receive the first cache of 5m doses from India in January, and a total of 30 million vaccines over the next 6 months. We will receive the vaccine in January, if the WHO approves the vaccine in late December or early January. We might need to look for other vaccine producers like Moderna or Pfizer if the vaccine of Serum Institute is not approved. Bangladesh is trying to get hold of the COVID-19 vaccine at the first phase under the guidance of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, despite being not an affluent country as the government intends to vaccinate 2.5 million people every month.
For effective usage of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is important that the vaccine producing companies and governments share the know-how with the world so that the vaccine can be produced locally. Any business intention should be completely eliminated. The global leaders need to step up in this regard.
Throughout the world, people are discriminated. Nations are molesting nations, religions are molesting religions and power game is putting people in jeopardy. Many people are suffering throughout the world in war zones like; Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Kashmir,African nations like; Nigeria, Sudan etc., in refugee camps like; in Rohingya refugee camps in Teknaf, Bangladesh, in refugee camps for Syrian war victims, refugees in Germany, Turkey, Jordan, Ethiopia etc. The fate of millions of people is already in uncertainty. Moreover, the poor people in all countries are already facing a hard time. This COVID-19 vaccine should not turn into another tool to increase the misery of the people around the globe for the sake of power, money, politics or self-interests.
It is the duty of the rich people and nations to come forward to eliminate the threats of COVID-19. For every dose of vaccine purchase, the rich people and nations should purchase two for the poor people and nations. This will help to ensure supply of COVID-19 vaccine to the poor as well as will share the cost of the vaccines for the government of non-affluent nations.
If the poor do not have access to this vaccine, then we can never come out of this unique pandemic which has affected the whole world and impacted every life.
We hope every country will receive the patent-free COVID-19 vaccine at the first phase along with technological know-how on how to produce it. This pandemic has come out as a natural punishment which made people from all nations, all religions, all backgrounds helpless and equal. We must uphold this equality while serving the vaccine. By using the vaccine for one’s political, financial or other ill interests, we should not intensify the wrath of the nature or god.
Hopefully the whole world will overcome from this deadly pandemic together.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC)