PAUL OKAH in this report observes that Covid-19 vaccines have not been equitably distributed to countries across the world as a result of patency and politics, especially with the advanced countries’ decision to focus on the vaccination of their citizens.
When Covid-19 vaccines were manufactured in the first quarter of this year after thousands of lives had been lost to the virus since its advent in December 2019, Nigeria and nations of the world heaved a sigh of relief.
However, as the months roll by, CSOs, health experts and concerned authorities have expressed worry over the apparent lopsidedness in the distribution of the vaccines to countries as a paltry 0.3 per cent of the vaccines has been sent to Nigeria and the other developing countries.
Also, despite the vaccines being manufactured with funds donated by public- spirited individuals and governments, scientists have laid claims to patency and are presently commercialising them, even as they choose the countries they distribute to, with the advanced countries also flexing political muscles to influence the distribution.
In an interview with this reporter, the country program director of AIDS Health Care Foundation (AHF) in Nigeria, Dr. Echey Ijezie, said out of the about 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered worldwide, 83 per cent of the 1.3 billion doses are mainly in the developed countries, while only 0.3 per cent have been administered in the least developed countries. He called on world leaders and stakeholders to protect humanity by providing equal access to the vaccines worldwide.
He said: “AHF is presently championing a campaign known as ‘Vaccinate Our World’ (VOW). The aim of the campaign is to bridge the disparity on Covid-19 vaccines that exist between the wealthy nations and those of lower economic status.
“As of our last check, about 1.3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide. Interestingly, a humongous 83 per cent of the 1.3 billion doses are mainly in the developed countries, while only 0.3 per cent has been administered in the least developed countries and the low income countries, including Nigeria. As you can see, there is a huge disparity. Therefore, we are calling on world leaders, pharmaceutical companies, public health organisations and concerned authorities to ensure equal access to Covid-19 vaccines.”
He added: “Until everyone is vaccinated, that is when the pandemic will stop. There is need for equal access to the vaccines to countries that are least developed. If this is not done, it will be public health and moral failure. This will also remind us of what happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s when it long a very long time before HIV treatment was rolled out in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We don’t want that to happen again, so we are calling on global leaders, public health organisations to ensure that lower income countries receive equal access to these vaccines. These countries that are of low income are now left to fend for themselves and the vaccines are inadequate. The same way the vaccines are accessible to developed countries, it should also be accessible to least developed and developing countries and those that have poor resources.”
Also, speaking with Blueprint Weekend, the National Secretary, Alliance for Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Mr. Atambi Ade, said “the world must see the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines as a human rights issue if we are to get it right.”
“The issue of access to vaccine is a human rights issue and the picture we see now is not a good one and that’s the situation. When we see vaccine from a position of trade, including patents, profits and all of that, then we miss the point. The issue of vaccine has become a world public good, so we need to make sure everybody accesses it, otherwise we are just dying slowly, even while alive. It doesn’t matter the world you are in: we should bring down all regulations and ensure that vaccine gets to everyone.
“Sometimes, the vaccines are produced with donations from the public. However, once produced, patents take over. We can’t be in that stream or pool, while we wait for vaccines to get to Africa or other developing worlds. Once we look at it as human rights issue and something that should reach everyone, then we begin to put it in the proper context. There should be application of the principle of social justice in the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“It is important to apply the principle of social justice, so that the most vulnerable citizens in the country are taken into consideration. ASCAB demands that there must be an increase in the production of vaccines and the distribution in the global search to ensure that lives are protected, including the vulnerable citizens. Health is wealth and the pandemic facing us today requires proactive action,” he said.
FG, others’ reactions
Speaking with this reporter, the president, Lawyers Alert, Mr. Rommy Mom, said the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines should be seen as a world public good and a human right across the globe.
“The need to have vaccines in the arms and protect lives is important, but only if we see it as a human rights issue; then as human beings, we have a right to get it. Human rights simply means by virtue of being born, the rights are yours and innate, and cannot be taken away. The issue of right to life and well-being according to the charters explains that it does not matter what part of the world we live in, everyone has a right and should get vaccinated,” he said.
On June 15, while updating Nigerians in Abuja during a press conference on the status of Covid-19 vaccination in Nigeria, the Executive Director/CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said that 680,345 have received the second doses of Covid-19 vaccines, while 1,978,808 have received the first doses as of June 15.
He said, “Our dedicated teams continue to make strides in the vaccine rollout, working hand in hand with the local communities all across Nigeria. As of today, we have administered 1,978,808 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and 680,345 second doses.
“Efforts to ensure supply of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in Nigeria are ongoing. We are fully committed to going to communities to discuss directly our vaccine effort, the importance of staying safe and protected against Covid-19 and answering questions people have.
“We now have information that Nigeria will get 3.92 million doses of Oxford/Astrazeneca by end of July or early August. As we receive additional information on the exact dates in August, we will provide an update regarding timelines and details of this.
“While we are working with our international partners to confirm the next shipment of vaccines to Nigeria, I wish to speak about the G7 summit that occurred over the weekend. The topic of global inequities in the vaccine supply was a significant focus of the G7 meeting. Rightfully so, leaders of major, rich countries are becoming increasingly aligned with the thinking that the inequities cannot continue – not only because it is a moral failure but because it is strategically unwise for their own efforts to end the Covid-19 pandemic.
“On the final day of the summit, leaders committed to delivering at least 1 billion coronavirus vaccine doses to the world over the next year. While this will not close the enormous gap that exists today, it is a positive step and we welcome the new focus.”
He said Further that, “Additionally, President Biden announced on the eve of the summit that the US will purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer-bioNTech vaccine and donate them to low- and middle-income countries through the next year. This pledge is by far the largest yet by one country. These doses will be distributed via Covax. We welcome this announcement and encourage other nations with the means to follow the US’ example so that we, as a global community, can move forward from Covid-19 swiftly.
“In other positive news, the Mastercard Foundation has pledged to donate $1.3 billion for vaccines in Africa over the next three years in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is one of the largest corporate donations of the pandemic, globally. The goals of this cooperation are to strengthen the Africa CDC’s capacity, support local vaccine manufacturing, procure vaccines for at least 50 million people, and help deliver shots to millions more. We applaud Mastercard’s decision, and hope it will serve as an impetus for other corporations to follow with similar efforts.”