Vaccine Hoarders: poor countries at risk as Australia & co block Covid vaccine

by | Mar 8, 2021 | Economy & Markets

Australia. the US, the UK and the European Union are refusing to waive intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines so developing countries can produce the vaccine locally. This refusal, in the face of vaccine hoarding by rich countries, is likely to cause millions more deaths because of slower access to a vaccine. It is also extremely short-sighted because long delays in global vaccination will enable more powerful variants to emerge. David Legge and Sun Kim report.

Vaccine nationalism is continuing unabated in Australia and other rich countries. Politicians play to lockdown-fatigued publics, boast of procurement deals and promise herd immunity. Meanwhile many low- and middle-income countries face long delays in accessing vaccines, even for frontline workers and vulnerable groups.

Millions of lives could be saved, and long delays in accessing vaccines eased, if the World Trade Organisation waived certain provisions of its intellectual property agreement that deals with copyright, industrial designs, patents and so on in regard to Covid-19. Such a waiver would enable lower income countries to access the vital technologies to scale up local production of the Covid-19 vaccines.

While more than 100 governments support granting the waiver, Australia, the US, the UK and the European Union continue to oppose it.

Last October, India and South Africa proposed that the WTO agree to waive sections of the TRIPS Agreement that relate to Covid-19 and for the waiver to remain in place until widespread vaccination had occurred globally, and most of the population had developed immunity.

Access to vaccines

On a doses-ordered per capita comparison, the US (10.2 doses per person), the UK (7.6), the EU (6.5), and Australia (5) stand out. These countries are expecting to achieve herd immunity by the end of this year.

In comparison, the African Union (AU) has deals for just 970 million doses for a population of 1.34 billion people, which is well below one dose per person, and for which the funding is still not secured. Zimbabwe (population 14.8 million) has 600,000 doses booked which will cover just 4% of the population.

If low- and middle-income countries have to wait an extra year or two before achieving herd immunity because the West is commandeering the vaccines, there will be about 40-50 million more cases of vaccines, and perhaps 2 to 3 million additional deaths. Many of the deaths will be of health workers.

IP barriers to scaling up production

One issue limiting vaccine production is the use of intellectual property laws to restrict production to licensed manufacturers. Is it possible that restrictions on supply are being imposed to maintain prices and profit flows in the longer term?

It is well to remember the HIV/Aids crisis of 1997-2001 when 39 pharmaceutical companies sued South Africa to try to stop it enacting legislation aimed at reducing the price of medicines for South Africans. This lawsuit effectively was based on maintaining huge profits by denying life-saving treatment to millions of people.

In the case of Covid the refusal of pharmaceutical companies to support open licensing through the Covid Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and their refusal to participate in head to head, comparative trials of the various candidate vaccines reflects the profit calculations they are making. This is despite the huge public funding that has gone into the research and development and production support of vaccines.

It is ever more obvious that private enterprise and the ‘free market’ are not well suited to the development and production of global public goods.

Without massive grants to rich countries and procurement deals, the rapid development and production of the Covid-19 vaccine would have been impossible.

The Covax facility

Meanwhile, Covax, the global initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid vaccines excludes upper middle-income countries from any subsidy, and only aims to facilitate the vaccination of just 20% of the population of participating countries.

The recent announcement that 90 million doses will be delivered to African countries through Covax by mid 2021 will only cover 3% of those countries’ populations. While Covax aims to deliver a further 600 million doses by the end of 2021, enough to immunise 20% of the population, this is optimistic in terms of procurement and delivery is nowhere near close to achieving herd immunity.

The objective of reaching herd immunity thus always depended on countries procuring the vaccines through the open market.

Variants of the virus

The projections regarding vaccine supply are complicated by the emergence of new variants, against which the first generation of vaccines aren’t as effective.

If more virulent, more transmissible strains of the virus develop and circulate in the rest of the world, the risks to the rich world will be heightened.

However, the proposed waiver is not enough on its own. Absolutely critical to production and scaling up vaccines is access to the manufacturing know-how.

However, the waiver on its own will not be sufficient. There will be an associated need for massive investment in the scaling up of research and development and production capacity in low and middle income countries, including through organised technology transfer.

Transnational capitalism

Resistance to the waiver needs to be understood as a refusal by the transnational capitalist class to contemplate any weakening of extreme IP. Notwithstanding the prospect of a huge avoidable disease burden in the low and middle income countries, neoliberalism will not take a backward step in the campaign to defend capitalist privilege.

Big Pharma, and the transnational capitalist elite more generally, are facing a crisis of legitimation arising from popular revulsion (in the developing countries) regarding the selfishness of vaccine hoarding by the rich countries and their defence of extreme IP.

The risk, for the transnational capitalist class, is that the governments of low and middle income countries are being forced to break with the neoliberal project of the West. China and Russia are clearly differentiating themselves from Western vaccine producers through prioritising the export of their vaccines and accepting slower vaccination at home.

WHO is still waiting for China and Russia to provide all of the data required for WHO for pre-qualification purposes.

Now that G7 countries are losing face to China and Russia, but still determined to refuse the waiver, the G7 countries are boosting their funding of the Covax facility to increase supply. Yet this facility will still only aim to vaccinate up to 20%.

Facing several more years of the pandemic and the prospect of higher prices when Covax concludes, the need to expand vaccine production appears self-evident in the global South. The demand for the TRIPS waiver is unlikely to go away.

This article was co-authored by Sun Kim, MS PhD, a Director of the Health Policy Research Centre of the People’s Health Institute in South Korea and Coordinator of the People’s Health Movement for South East Asia and the Pacific. 

Websites Research: online advice on medications skewed by Big Pharma funding


David Legge

David Legge

David Legge is a scholar emeritus in the School of Public Health and Human Biosciences at La Trobe University in Melbourne and a founding member of the People’s Health Movement.


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    Seems like another version of the BIG 4, with complete ignorance of the wider issues of cause and effect.

    This article reminds me of a doco that I saw called ‘Fire In the Blood’ and how rich nations were standing in the way of vaccine production for HIV AIDS that many sought to be manufactured in India, which was successfully done, hence the objection to the TRIPS proposal.

    These greedy countries are sacrificing frontline health workers in the first instance, amongst other things.

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    I had no idea the breakdown of these numbers and percentages vaccines distribution around the world. This is so sad for the developing countries , and how slow the uptake will be for these nations through no fault of their own but to the detriment of their people.
    Herd immunity is the only way the world can find some form of normality again, so I do not understand why the west are doing this. Of course greed and selfishness, low act in human decency.

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      no vaccine has ever been shown to develop herd immunity. Look at the sceince not public claims that are unsupported

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        As I said before – an anti vaccer clutching at straws.

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        Name calling without the facts suggests you cannot engage with the material and only able to attack the person. Argue the science instead of attacking the person if you have something of worth.

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        I made my original comment on this site to suggest MWM look a little deeper into this subject before posting as I believe there is ample highly creditable evidence from many people and places around the world that see a very different picture of the so called Covid-19 Pandemic than this article presented.
        It was not with any intent to argue the case in this blog/comments section to a single article. I put up a couple of points not to start a debate but to indicate there are differences. I have better things to do than argue here with people who name call and are apparently wedded to one point of view. Do science and question and challenge the evidence – and lightweight popular magazines of any ilk rarely worry about science so I do not bother with them. I have access to PubMed and far far more and read research papers and analyse data. Challenge your beliefs, if they stand up, good, if not change them.

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        You still have not cited any credible evidence to support your claims. You want to present a different point of view and yet cannot substantiate your claims. You have access to PubMed, whoopee duck, they accept articles from non kosher sources eg
        “PubMed has been reported to include some articles published in predatory
        journals. MEDLINE and PubMed policies for the selection of journals for
        database inclusion are slightly different. Weaknesses in the criteria
        and procedures for indexing journals in PubMed Central may allow
        publications from predatory journals to leak into PubMed”.
        So much for your scientific research.

      • Avatar

        And you still do not get it. My post was for MWM and I have no intention of sparing with a fixed mind like yours in this forum. I challenged you and I got four medical references as if that was an answer. You missed my point – so what. Go get the mRNA shot if you believe in it but let others make up their mind without ridicule and name calling simply because they question what you do or think. Science is a method, a process otherwise Gallileo would not have dared question and risk being BBQ’d for even daring to by the tyrants who could not tolerate anyone who questioned their views.

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        You also got a fact check article that explodes your nonsense. I threw the other articles in for SCIENTIFIC verification, which is something that you have not achieved. You reference PubMed in general but not any specific article. One of your original tenets was that they haven’t isolated the virus which flies in the face of reason. You then resort to the right wing fundamentalist trick of obfuscation so as to shift the goalposts from your specious comments.

        There is an old Australian axiom which goes “you can never educate a mug”. I feel that this saying is apt in your case. I would pose the question “are you anti vaccination” but I won’t be back to see you answer, although I suspect you are.
        Have a good time in La La land.

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        For anyone reading this you might like to follow the points Harry Williams has made which have studiously avoided the point of my original comment and amount to primarily an attack on my person. False unsupported name calling like Antivaxxer with no basis (I said nothing to that end), insults like ‘Mug’ etc, demands for proof when I had no intention of trying to prove anything, and goading etc should make clear what is going on here. ,I suspect what we have is a Chat Room, Attack Dog whose purpose is to do precisely what we see here. An agent to deride, insult, bait and belittle paid directly or indirectly by those who would smother debate and questioning which is Anti-Science, as was the Inquisition that killed those who dared dissent from the ‘official’ narrative. Lets not be fooled by this nasty game and pursue true science as it should be done.

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        Maybe both of you could make use of this credible source, more credible than PubMed, which is owned by none other than the folks who gave us ‘Roundup’:

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        Thank you for the link Heather. I looked at what was offered though I noted a general assumption that SARS-Cov-2 had been isolated, purified, positively identified as a new type/variant virus and was the agent of infection for the illness Covid-19. Looking at a Chinese study on spike protein from SARS-Cov-2 in lab investigations with Lung tissue and Bone Marrow at no point did I read any statement as to where or how the SARS-Cov-2 virus used was obtained or confirmed. I suspect that all the reports on the site reflect the first statement made in the Chinese paper which boldly stated SARS-Cov-2 was a serious threat to human health etc. etc. I would be surprised though will stand corrected if any report on that site questions whether SARS-Cov-2 has been correctly and positively isolated and identified and clearly shown as the primary agent in an illness called Covid-19. I am still looking and waiting for the basic evidence to support the rational behind all the Pandemic activity.

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        From what I can gather, no one in the ‘science’ community has any lab samples of the virus.

        Here is what I have been following, and it’s a plausible source, certainly makes you think.

        Eric’s skill is in translating what is happening in the commercial realm thru his major interests as well as the astrological ages and portents, and highlights the very interesting intersections between economy, ecology, environment, history of human nature, medicine, media and politics.If that’s not enough, he also teaches.

        You may also discover the tab that houses the Covid-19 News articles, which Eric and his team have run since the commencement of Covid-19 and it makes for some very interesting reading/listening, as well as the machinations that lay behind it. Several interviews and articles have been written by Nobel Peace prize winners regarding the efficacy of the testing regime, as well as several other notables who have skin in the game such as Naomi Wolf.

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    Rich nations pay more so that is the first place to sell a vaccine as it is all about profitability not health. I implore MWM to get someone not wedded to the mainstream media propaganda on the so called Covid-19 Pandemic to do some true homework rather than assume that the world actually NEEDS a ‘Covid Vaccine’ as many think. The ALL Cause Mortality for practically every country studied for 2020 when compared to previous years back nearly a decade do NOT show that we have suffered ANY Pandemic. There is creditable scientific evidence that shows the mRNA EXPERIMENTAL injections are NOT vaccines but Genetic Modifiers. The Nuremberg Codes prohibited medical experiments on humans without their full INFORMED consent. The full data on mRNA stage 3 trials is not available. Do the homework you claim is fundamental to this sites reason for existing.

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      Qanon reigns supreme.

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        lets talk science not conspiracy nonsense please

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        That is exactly what my comment was aimed at. You ignore science and put your own spin on events. Where is your scientific credible evidence? No pandemic? If they were alive over half a million American dead would disagree with you. You are the one spouting nonsense – no doubt an anti-vaccer.

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        Prove my comments wrong then.

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        Prove them right then. You can’t, they fly in the face of credibility.

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        I originally asked MWM to do more research before writing such articles. It is a basic tenant of science to always question as science is a process not an end in itself. Fail to challenge a theory or a claim and you are not doing science. I began my research in January 2020 and challenged everything as I came to it. Do you? In March 2020 there were claims that the SARS-Cov-2 virus had been isolated which turned out to be not true but big media reported as if it was. Then 13.07.20 the US-CDC bulletin page 39 and there it is NO isolate. And as far as my resources show there is STILL no isolate. So how can anyone claim a vaccine to something not isolated? And mutations of something unknown?? Come on!! Proof it actually causes Covid-19? Nope. The full virus genome? Nope, fragments of what MAY be THE virus with a lot cobbled together in a computer model. So yes I can back my claims and late last year on TV bold statements clearly put that mRNA shots will NOT confer immunity nor prevent onward infection. Supported by true science as well. I do science research and do not repeat big TV unsubstantiated propaganda and empty political pronouncements.

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      You gotta cite your sources Peter, it’s really important.

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        No Mstthew I dont. I could and I would except this is not the place and was never my intention in the first place. I want MWM to do more homework as all of us must do. This article does not represent the truth for me but it matters not what I think or know. People must learn for themselves and do their own thinking or they are behaving simply as sheep. There is a ton of evidence in plain sight if you can only see it. Count the bodies (much the same as every year), where is the Isolate for SARS-Cov-2 (no one has it so what mutations what proof of causation) what do the so called Covid mRNA V’s actually do ( modify DNA or not, if yes what consequence). Its your health people – so care for it.

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        ‘Not the place’?? It’s a comment section, citations can be made absolutely anywhere for any reason. They’re important because it give substance to whatever claim you’re making. ‘A claim without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’ so when you take the time to write your views, understand they will go ignored because you’ve failed to support them. Until you reference your sources, I’ll regard anything you have to say about your views as wilful ignorance.

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        OK by me. Wilful ignorance it is then. I say again I had no intention of making an explanation, here. I put a request to MWM and I have put some questions people must answer for themselves. If you are happy with what you have good for you. I do not consider myself wilfully ignorant at all after more than a year of extensive research from multiple sources to cross reference. Works for me. Can you find excess deaths? Can you find a definite isolation of SARS-Cov-2, proof the RT-PCR does identify a specific virus. I cannot.

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    By the Way. When Swine Flu was going to kill thousands or more in 2009/10, rich nations bought up big on Tamiflu which in many countries the public refused, some 60% in the UK for example. What to do with all that expensive and paid for medication that netted the manufacturer some US$15 billion income? Easy, give it to developing countries whether they wanted it or not and tick the amount off the foreign aid donations commitment list. A huge pile of a rich country’s cash goes to the Pharma company and a big lump is cut off the foreign aid bill. Neat.

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    The deep roots of greed and fear have to replaced by love, kindness and generosity. In other words, compassion. We have to bring everyone with us otherwise we will all go through an endless cycle of suffering.

  6. Avatar

    Big Pharma don’t give a toss about health outcomes;
    It’s about the profits!
    regardless of the social &/or health costs.

  7. Avatar

    Anyone who cares to look will find the US-CDC Bulletin issued 13th July 2020 on page 39 make clear that at that date NO isolate existed for SARS-Cov-2 and reliable information confirms this is still the case Feb 2021. Also the originator and Nobel Lauriiate Kary Mullis who developed the PCR manufacturing process stated flatly that it was not suitable for clinical diagnostics and could not identify a specific virus. Put these facts together with government compiled All Cause Mortality data year on year and there is little variation to indicate a Pandemic. At the least these should make questions that need clearer answers before supporting any mass injection of experimental untried materials into healthy populations 99.97% of whom can be expected not to die from something called Covid-19.

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