Will poorer countries have access to the vaccine?

Laura Bauckmann
November 23, 2020

The first corona vaccines could soon be approved in the US and Europe. Many rich countries are already securing supplies. Is that why poorer countries are not getting any at first?

At the moment, positive news about possible vaccines against the corona virus is piling up. Several manufacturers are reporting promising results from their studies. In December, two vaccines could possibly be approved in Europe and the US: the one by the Mainz-based company Biontech and its US partner Pfizer and the one by the US company Moderna. Production is already underway for both.

The group of major industrialised nations (G20) wants to "spare no effort" to ensure fair and affordable access to corona vaccines in the world. This is stated in the latest draft final declaration of the G20 summit, which is available to the German Press Agency. The rich countries also want to do all they can to get the world economy back on track. "We will spare no effort to ensure affordable and equitable access for all," says the G20 final declaration.  

But the reality is as follows:

Biontech and Pfizer say they have already sold more than 570 million cans on a firm basis - 200 million to the EU and 100 million to the US alone. To this must be added 100 million that the EU and 500 million that the US can buy optionally. In addition, about a dozen of the most prosperous nations - including Canada, the UK, Switzerland, Australia and Japan, and some South American countries such as Chile, Peru and Costa Rica - have agreed supplies with Biontech/Pfizer. A total of about 1.2 billion doses have already been committed - including the agreed options. At the same time, the companies currently expect to be able to produce a good 1.3 billion cans by the end of next year. Most of this is already planned.

So for most of the world, at least in the beginning, there seems to be little left over. The Federal President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier pointed out at the end of October that almost half of the world's population lives in countries "which do not have the means to offer themselves to manufacturers as preferred customers". The consequence would be "that in poorer, but no less needy countries only a small part of the population could be vaccinated, whereas in richer countries a disproportionately larger part could be vaccinated", Steinmeier said. In a guest article for the Tagesspiegel this week, he called on Germany and the EU to give up parts of the quotas they have secured. Moreover, all countries should participate in the global Covax initiative according to their possibilities.

Covax was founded in April by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparednes (CEPI). Its aim is to provide vaccines to poorer countries. Almost all countries in the world have now declared their support for the initiative, but the USA and Russia have not yet done so.

Currently, manufacturers can submit bids for the Covax initiative. A call for tender has been launched. The aim is to be able to distribute two billion doses. But to achieve this, the supply of possible vaccines alone is not enough. Covax also needs the money. So far, a number of countries and a number of private companies and foundations have pledged almost five billion dollars. But that is still far from enough. According to the WHO, at least eleven billion dollars are needed to buy and distribute the two billion doses of vaccine we are aiming for.

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