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ActionAid calls on rich countries and pharmaceutical companies to stop blocking cheap generic vaccines

Suwaiba Yakubu Jubrin, Head of Programmes for ActionAid Nigeria informs members of Gwalada community about the novel Corona virus

In response to the joint WHO and UNICEF statement 10 February 2021 “In the COVID-19 vaccine race, we either win together or lose together”, ActionAid International calls on rich countries and pharmaceutical companies to stop blocking cheap generic vaccines for the global south.

Pharmaceutical companies have already sold almost 70% of the expected 2021 vaccine doses to just a few rich countries. Unless bold action is taken now, the majority of the world’s people will have no escape from the Covid-19 nightmare anytime soon. This is no time for pharmaceutical patents to slow down the rollout of a vaccine that could save lives and livelihoods across the globe.

ActionAid International Secretary General, Julia Sánchez says: “Rich countries stockpiling vaccines will not stop coronavirus because this pandemic respects no borders. WHO and UNICEF have rightly pointed to supply being a major obstacle to protecting the world’s health-workers and vulnerable groups. But pharmaceutical patents are stopping manufacturers from producing generic versions of this vaccine at speed and scale. Money and profit shouldn’t determine who has access to health services.”

ActionAid International is calling on rich countries and pharmaceutical companies to stop blocking cheap generic vaccines so they can be developed at speed and scale and meet the immediate needs across the global south.

Two countries hit hardest by the virus in the global south, South Africa and India, have called on the World Trade Organisation to waive certain intellectual property rights given today’s circumstances, where the pandemic has led to the greatest recession since the great depression. The United States, the EU, Japan, Canada and Switzerland are among the most vocal opponents of the proposed waiver.

“During the HIV pandemic, ActionAid saw first-hand how intellectual property rules and other barriers artificially limited treatment supplies and pushed up prices, resulting in millions of needless deaths. We must not let history repeat itself”, continued Sánchez.

ActionAid is supporting calls for a  People’s Vaccine – a vaccine that is available to all, in all countries, free of charge. In Africa a significant proportion of the population won’t even be vaccinated until 2024.

Health systems in Africa and Asia are vastly underfunded and ill-prepared for the pandemic. ActionAid research recently found that after years of systematic under-investment, only 15% of low-income countries have health care systems that meet WHO’s minimum standards. Two-thirds of these countries are spending more on debt service payments than public health care. “Rich countries have colonized, extracted, demanded repayments on unsustainable loans from low-income countries - and now they are hoarding life-saving vaccines” adds Sánchez.

Sánchez continues: “Pharmaceutical companies have already profited during the pandemic and are expected to make billions of dollars this year due to the vaccine. Governments and corporate giants cannot be allowed to get away with putting profit before people in plain daylight.”

ActionAid is calling for women and vulnerable groups to be prioritised in any vaccine rollout. Women are at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19, making up to 70% of the global healthcare workforce. They have been carrying most of the burden of additional care work and home schooling since the pandemic hit. They should not be pushed to the back of the queue, wherever they live.