Irish NGOs fear rollout of boosters will lead to further vaccine inequality around the world
IRISH NGOs WORKING in developing countries fear that the acceleration of recall programs in rich countries will lead to even deeper inequality in access to Covid-19 vaccines in 2022.
Without waiving intellectual property rights to allow developing countries to produce their own vaccines, charities have said these countries will have to continue to compete for supply with wealthy countries who can afford to buy doses to increase. their entire population.
As the new variant of Omicron began to surge in developed countries and cases increased, a number of governments, including Ireland’s, moved to narrow the gap between second doses and boosters.
The vaccine supply was already limited before the new variant appeared, but the situation is now likely to worsen, said Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra. The newspaper, and the richer countries have the purchasing power to “absorb most of the supply”.
“It’s obviously a concern,” she said. “It’s not that there is no need for booster campaigns in Ireland and other Western countries, but six times more booster shots are given daily globally than the first doses in low-income countries. income.
This means that we lock ourselves into a cycle where we have to keep giving booster shots as new variants emerge. It is deeply frustrating.
The TRIPS exemption
De Barra said richer countries are not only buying vaccine stocks, but blocking attempts to facilitate production in developing countries through waivers of intellectual property rights.
In October 2020, India and South Africa made a landmark proposal to temporarily waive several sections of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) – an international legal agreement between all member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The WTO agreement allows members to waive elements of the TRIPS Agreement in exceptional circumstances – such as a pandemic – with respect to pharmaceuticals and “least developed countries”.
The EU initially opposed the waiver, but has since tabled a counter-proposal to use flexibilities in existing WTO rules. A key WTO meeting scheduled to take place in November has been postponed indefinitely due to concerns over Omicron.
The World Health Organization has criticized countries blocking the waiver, saying the pandemic has become “a crisis of solidarity and sharing” and even US President Joe Biden has called on countries to forgo intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines.
Although Irish government ministers have expressed support for the waiver, they have been criticized for not doing more to push the EU on the issue.
De Barra said blocking the waiver is “short-sighted and doomed to failure” and will help exacerbate short and long-term suffering in developing countries.
Other charities such as Oxfam have condemned governments’ efforts to block the TRIPS waiver on Covid vaccines, tests and treatments during World Trade Organization talks.
Jim Clarken, CEO of Oxfam Ireland, recently said that vaccine inequity has created “the perfect breeding ground for new variants such as Omicron”.
“This should be a wake-up call. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past 21 months, ”he said.
Clarken said executives must insist that pharmaceutical companies start sharing their science and technology with qualified manufacturers around the world, “so that we can immunize people in all countries and finally end this pandemic.”
Increase in the number of cases in Africa
In mid-December, Africa was reporting a massive increase in Covid cases, although the death toll was lower than in previous waves.
In the week to December 12, the number of cases had increased by 83%. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, warned that the slow roll-out of the vaccine in Africa would mean cases and deaths would be “higher than they should be”.
As of December 13, only 20 African countries had vaccinated at least 10% of their population – the global target the WHO had set for September 2021.
Only six countries had reached the end-of-year goal of fully immunizing 40% of their population, while only two – Mauritius and the Seychelles – had 70%.
A woman in Somalia washes her hands.
Low vaccination rates risk providing fertile ground for new variants, such as the rapidly spreading Omicron strain, which was first identified in South Africa, the WHO said.
“We have known for some time now that new variants like Beta, Delta or Omicron could regularly emerge to trigger new epidemics around the world, but vaccine-deprived regions like Africa will be particularly vulnerable,” Moeti said.
At the current rate, the WHO estimates that it will be necessary to wait until May 2022 to have a vaccination coverage of 40% in Africa and until August 2024 to reach 70% announced in mid-December.
Aggravation of complex problems
Caoimhe de Barra de Trócaire said NGOs working in developing countries have witnessed the devastating impact of the pandemic – and not just in terms of health.
“The reality for us in the countries we work in is that Covid is an aggravator of many other complex issues such as conflict, deep poverty and injustice and then in some you also have political complexities”, a- she declared.
“Two countries in particular at this time as we are witnessing political crises are Myanmar and Ethiopia, but many other countries are in a constant state of instability and insecurity.
For people living in these countries, they face a multitude of problems on a daily basis, of which Covid is really just one.
She said that while there have been obvious health impacts in developing countries, the side effects have been “absolutely devastating”.
“Ireland, Europe and the richest countries in the world have been able to vaccinate many people, so even though there is a relatively high prevalence of the virus, shops can open and offices can open and people can continue to work, ”she explained.
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“In the poorest countries, because the immunization level is so low, governments have very few tools in their arsenal to deal with a wave and that means blockages are really all they have.
“The vast majority of low-income people depend on the daily income from their work and if they cannot take the bus to the market to get to work, they cannot buy food, they cannot pay. tuition or medication. “
Zeinab Odowa Colow with her son Osman in Dollow
She said the restrictions had a significant impact on children as regular immunization programs were cut short and they were kept away from school for long periods of time.
“Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and we are concerned about school closures in these countries, it was one of the only tools governments had, but schooling has only recently resumed. and there is a cohort of children who will never go back to school – girls especially around the age of 12, ”she said.
“We could see another generation doomed to poverty. Every additional year you keep a girl in school six times the chances of her children staying in school.
A bill away from the downward spiral
A death from Covid can completely change the course of this family’s future security, she explained, as did a woman in Zimbabwe.
“She is 32 years old and has two primary-age children. Her husband worked in South Africa as a migrant worker – many people migrate to South Africa for this type of work, which is often informal and can be dangerous. He was living in crowded conditions, he caught Covid and he died.
Now she is raising her two children on her own with very few options. Before that, they were on an upward spiral to lift their families out of poverty, but with the disappearance of the main breadwinner, that spiral comes down.
“She is now part of our program, so we are helping her develop her own livelihood, but millions of people are suffering as well. You can be on a downward spiral when you have this kind of fragile experience.
Significant access to vaccines
If world leaders are to avoid the current cycle they find themselves in, de Barra said governments and businesses must ensure by 2022 that everyone has meaningful access to vaccines.
“If this continues, booster shots will be needed around the world, we have to get ahead of this disease,” she said.
We need to see the TRIPS waiver in place, with the transfer of technology, information and know-how to the poorest countries through the WHO. The quality of vaccines was raised as an issue, but a management process is in place through WHO.
“We also need to realize that the countries we work in have health systems that are in urgent need of investment, not just because of Covid,” she said.
“There is a need to reconsider what is a responsible way forward when health systems remain weak, people remain vulnerable to all kinds of infections and the world in general is more vulnerable.”
– With the AFP report.