As countries around the world have started vaccinating their residents against COVID-19, the unequal distribution of vaccines between rich and poor countries has become obvious and alarming. Since October, the World Trade Organisation has been debating a proposal initiated by India and South Africa to waive obligations under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS agreement to make COVID-19 technologies, including vaccines, quickly accessible to across the world. During the TRIPS council meeting on 4 February, developed countries continued to oppose movement on the proposal.
Only ten countries account for 95 percent of the 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered globally. The World Health Organisation has been advocating for vaccinating at least 70 percent of the global population to stall the pandemic. We have estimated that the current vaccine requirement is around 10.92 billion doses, that is, two doses per person. Current availability lags far behind at 7.2 billion doses. In this scenario, a handful of countries have already hoarded a majority of the available doses. High-income countries with only 16 percent of the world’s population have booked 60 percent of available doses by making commercial deals with manufacturers. The share of vaccines bought by lower middle-income countries is just about six percent and that of low-income countries is about four percent. If the current trend continues, poor nations can achieve mass vaccination only by 2024.
The outrageous mismatch between the supply and demand and the intensification of manufacturing in the hands of a few private manufacturers, presents an urgent need to enhance the COVID-19 vaccine availability using the existing production facilities of diverse vaccine manufactures across the globe to ensure equitable access.