COVID-19: Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine a boost for global access, but huge inequality remains
Responding to news that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca has shown 70% effectiveness in clinical trials, potentially increasing to 90% if the dosage is altered, Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said:
“Oxford and AstraZeneca have promised “broad and equitable access” to this vaccine, bringing hope to people around the word. The vaccine’s low cost and easy storage should make fair distribution possible, and this is the first vaccine to include significant deals for distribution in lower-income countries. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can benefit from these life-saving products and without further action, vaccine supply for lower-income countries will remain perilously low.
“This is the third vaccine to show promising results in recent weeks, and many wealthy countries have now bought up enough doses of these products to vaccinate their entire populations. Governments and companies need to start prioritizing access for the rest of the world, sharing technologies widely and agreeing deals to ensuring that stocks are available to protect everyone who needs it, no matter where they live.”
Oxford/AstraZeneca has said it is able to produce 3 billion doses in 2021, and is currently the only vaccine developer to have a deal with the global COVAX facility, which most low and middle income countries will rely on for much of their vaccine supply. In June, Oxford/AstraZeneca committed to produce 1 billion doses for low and middle income countries, via a partnership with the Serum Institute of India. They have promised to sell the vaccine for no profit – between $2 and $3 per dose - for the duration of the pandemic.
The US has now secured orders for over 1 billion doses of the three vaccines announcing results so far – over 3 doses per person – while the UK, Canada and Japan have secured more than two doses per person of the three vaccines, in addition to deals for other vaccines still in development. Although the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will provide a major boost to access in a number of countries, committed supplies for most low and middle income still only cover a fraction of these countries’ populations.
Doses of the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine have been ordered already by many countries, including the EU (400 million), US (300 million), China (200 million) Japan (120 million), UK (100 million) Brazil (100 million), and Indonesia (100 million), Australia (33.8 million), Egypt (30 million), Argentine (22 million) and Canada (20 million). A deal was also struck with Mexico and Argentina to produce vaccines for countries in Latin America.
Pharmaceutical companies and research institutes play a crucial role in facilitating access to the right to health. Under international law, they have a responsibility to respect human rights which requires them, among others, to ensure that their Covid-19 vaccines are accessible and affordable to as many people as possible.
Two weeks ago a group of UN human rights experts called on governments to stop hoarding vaccine supplies, and on pharmaceutical companies to share their innovations to ensure everyone can access tests, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.