The covid-19 vaccines that never reached poor countries

From Paris

Geopolitics, selfishness and stupidity were raised as an insurmountable wall that blocked the way to international cooperation and solidarity to facilitate an equitable distribution of the Covid vaccine. The greatest crisis that humanity has known after the Second World War continued with the same scheme: monopoly of the vaccine by the most powerful countries, solidarity for the soil and failure to fulfill the promises and international commitments foreseen so that the societies of the world will have the antidote. Everything remains the same, including the damage caused by the mutations of the virus. More than one hundred thousand new cases, 16 thousand people hospitalized and 169 deaths in just 24 hours in France, 2021 ends very far from the hopes with which the year began. The Omicron variant, more contagious and resistant to vaccines, and the Delta variant, already present since April, increased the impact of the fifth wave of the pandemic. The massive vaccination campaigns carried out in western countries from March 2021 made it possible to initially stop the ravages of the English variant and then confront the Delta variant of the virus with a condition that will lead to a legitimate debate: the sanitary pass. Without it, that is, without the certificate of a complete vaccination scheme or a negative test, access to many public places was restricted.

In November of this year, however, the appearance in Southern Africa of a version of the virus pregnant with mutations diluted hopes: Ómicron is able to pass the barriers of the vaccine and requires the injection of a third dose. With this variant, the vaccine ceased to be the absolute weapon, even in rich countries where 70 percent of the population has already been vaccinated against 7.5 in Africa for a total of 56 percent of vaccinated people worldwide. This quick scheme is only valid for the wealthy of the world who monopolized most of the vaccines produced by Western laboratories: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Janssen, Astra Zeneca and Novax (the five authorized by the European Union). The vaccine divided the world not only between rich and poor, but also between legitimate vaccines, Western ones, and illegitimate ones, understand, those produced by Russia (Sputnik 5) and China (Sinopharm, Sinovac). This has created three different types of populations: those with full access to Western vaccines, those with partial access and mostly Russian and Chinese vaccines, and those with crumbs. The Russian and Chinese vaccines were disqualified for geopolitical and unsanitary reasons. Otherwise, the countries that, like Argentina and 70 other nations, had access to both vaccines would not have slowed down the rate of infections and deaths. The trade war with China and the retaliation against Russian President Vladimir Putin for his support, during the war, of the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad, his support for the Ukrainian separatists and later the arrest of dissidents support the boycott of these vaccines .

The percentages of the global distribution of available vaccines constitute an argument that exposes the planetary fracture in itself. While in nations with purchasing power the supply of the third dose of the vaccine is well advanced, in poor areas of the world it is barely going for the first. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, explained a few weeks ago that in high-income countries six times more doses of the third vaccination are injected than first doses in low-income countries.

Globally, 30 percent of SARS-Cov 2 vaccines were administered in low- and middle-income countries. These nations, however, represent 51 percent of the world’s population. At the same time, 68 percent of all available doses were distributed exclusively in 10 countries. The same OECD report highlights that among the states that vaccinated 40 percent of the population, none were poor. Upwards or downwards, all the work carried out by different international organizations, experts or universities is categorical: a large part of the world was left in the open, exposed to the inclemency of the virus. According to a statistic from the University of Oxford, only 3 out of 100 people have a complete vaccination scheme in the poorest countries. In certain African countries the vaccine is a more exclusive good than gold: 0.42 percent in Chad, 0.06 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 0.0025 in Burundi. And these figures, as well as the projections on contamination, are of little accuracy. The World Health Organization estimates that, in Africa, barely one in seven cases is detected and accounted for.

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A promise and an initiative launched by India and South Africa and backed by Argentina remained on paper. The initiative consisted of calling for the temporary suspension of trade agreements (TRIPS) on intellectual property of patents and treatments against the virus. Despite the commitments of each other and the fiery expressions around the urgent need for this measure, nothing has advanced. The issue remains blocked within the World Trade Organization (WTO) due to opposition from the European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway. As for the promises, his landing in reality is far from being up to par. Rich countries pledged to donate 2 billion doses through the Covax device. The amount is a tear at the urgency of fully vaccinating 70 percent of the world’s population without protection. The United States offered 1,100 million doses, the European Union 500 million while China and the United Kingdom 100 million respectively. However, when the donated doses are counted, it is very far from the promised ones: barely one in five of the proposed doses reached their destination.

The Covax initiative was, at the beginning of the pandemic, one of the most ambitious. The aim was to guarantee balanced access to the vaccine in all parts of the planet and, in addition, to distribute the vaccine free of charge in poor countries. The immediate goal sought to vaccinate 20 percent of the population of 92 poor or middle-income countries while the other 51 middle- or high-income nations that made up the platform had to pay for the vaccines. 19 months later, the objectives have not been reached. Covax supplied 5 percent of the vaccines distributed throughout the world and, according to the members of the initiative, the figure of 2 billion planned for 2021 will not be reached. So far, Covax has delivered 350 million. In 2021, vaccines arrived late and sometimes with expiration dates too close to be able to carry out a rational vaccination campaign. For many nations, the only alternative was to knock on the door of the leading private laboratories in the manufacture of the vaccine and wait a long time for someone to respond.

Wherever you look, inequality is the ruling monarchy. The WHO Vaccination Policy Expert Committee (SAGE) indicated that 120 countries started a campaign to promote or supply a supplementary dose of the vaccine. The Committee clarifies that “the vast majority of these are rich or middle-income countries” and that “no poor country introduced supplementary dose programs”. In this context and with Covid mutations lurking everywhere, the additional doses are equivalent to producing the same global imbalance. What is given here is taken away there. It is a policy similar to a dog that bites its own tail going in endless circles. On December 22, the director general of the WHO recalled that “programs of repetition of vaccines without discernment have all the possibilities of prolonging the pandemic instead of putting an end to it. By diverting the available doses to countries that already have a high percentage of vaccination, the virus is offered much more possibilities to spread and mutate ”. Everything returns to its beginning, like an eternal return of tragedy: global supplies of the vaccine (what is available) will go to rich countries who, suffocated by the Omicron variant, will once again monopolize vaccines. The others will live in that persistent space of slow agony and indifference.

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