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Share vaccines with developing world or face ‘countless’ Covid deaths, charities warn

“Countless” people in developing countries will die unnecessarily from Covid-19 due to the rich world’s failure to deliver on vaccine promises and Britain’s decision to block an initiative to enable them to produce their own, a report has warned.

The report, by the People’s Vaccine Alliance of charities including Oxfam, ActionAid and Global Justice Now, found that just 261m of the 1.8bn vaccine donations promised by rich nations - 14 per cent - have so far been delivered to low and middle-income countries.

Meanwhile, while Western pharmaceutical companies have provided only 12 per cent of the doses they promised to the international Covax programme to vaccinate the developing world.

It came as a separate report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found that the UK’s assistance to developing countries hit by Covid has been undermined by Boris Johnson’s decision to slash overall aid spending from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP.

The chair of the Commons International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, said that the “devastating” impact of the aid cut had been laid bare by the independent watchdog’s report, which also blasted a Foreign Office decision to withdraw health staff from developing countries during the pandemic, just as their experience and knowledge were most needed.

Leaders of the world’s biggest industrial powers pledged at the G7 summit chaired by Mr Johnson in Cornwall in June to provide 1bn Covid vaccines to developing countries. US president Joe Biden later rallied support at the UN general assembly for the goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of people in every country in the world by September 2022.

But today’s PVA report found that the UK has delivered only 9.6m – less than 10 per cent - of the 100m doses it promised, while taking half a million doses from Covax for itself. Other countries have also handed over only a small proportion of the promised jabs, including 3.2m out of 40m – 8 per cent – from Canada and 177m out of 1.1bn - 16 per cent from the USA, the report said.

Meanwhile, latest figures show that only 120m - 12 per cent - of the 994m doses promised by major pharmaceutical companies have been handed over to Covax. The report said that Covax has received 104m - 14 per cent - of the 720m doses promised by Oxford/AstraZeneca, 16m - 40 per cent - of the 40m promised by Pfizer/BioNTech, zero doses of the 200m promised by Johnson & Johnson and zero doses of the 30m promised by Moderna.

And the UK has joined the EU and Switzerland in blocking proposals from South Africa and India for an intellectual property waiver on Covid vaccines, which would allow low-income companies to set up their own facilities to produce millions of doses to recipes developed in the rich world.

As a result of the “endless tide of inadequate gestures and broken promises” from rich countries and companies, just 1.3 per cent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated, exposing the developing world to continuing waves of hospitalisations and deaths and rendering the global south a breeding ground for dangerous new variants, the report said.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, a member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said: “Rich nations and corporations are shamefully failing to deliver on their promises whilst blocking the actual solution - ensuring developing nations have the ability to make their own vaccines.

“It is painfully clear that the developing world cannot rely on the largesse and charity of rich nations and pharmaceutical companies, and hundreds of thousands of people are dying from Covid-19 as a result. This is beyond appalling.”

The Alliance said that low-income countries were suffering the results of a decision to put control over supply in the hands of a few multinational companies, which were prioritising rich-world customers.

Oxfam’s Robbie Silverman said: “The failure of rich country donations and the failure of Covax have the same root cause – we have given over control of vaccine supply to a small number of pharmaceutical companies, who are prioritising their own profits.

“These companies can’t produce enough to vaccinate the world, they are artificially constraining the supply, and they will always put their rich customers at the front of the line.

“The only way to end the pandemic is to share the technology, and know-how with other qualified manufacturers so that everyone, everywhere can have access to these life-saving vaccines.”

Meanwhile, ICAI said that while the UK made a “strong” initial aid response to the outbreak, the cuts imposed by Mr Johnson impacted heavily on many areas of coronavirus aid spending.

Programmes that would have mitigated the long-term damage of the pandemic have been reduced or closed, potentially placing vulnerable groups at increased risk, the report found.

And the decision to order UK aid staff to come home from numerous international postings “hampered” Britain’s aid response and left the country out of step with donors from elsewhere in the world.

ICAI called on the government to accelerate the supply of vaccines to developing countries and support their equitable rollout to vulnerable populations.

Ms Champion said: “The UK entered the pandemic as a global leader on aid, but any progress made was swiftly undermined by the Tories assault on the aid budget.

“These cuts are self-defeating and threaten future efforts to combat Covid. We won’t be safe from Covid and any new variants in the UK until we have beaten the virus globally.

“While the UK was a leader in this effort the Government’s ideological cuts, found by ICAI to have no evidential base, threaten to undermine our global reputation and recovery, as well as the international effort to halt the pandemic.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK has already delivered over 10 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, as part of the prime minister’s pledge to donate 100 million doses overseas by June next year.”

“The UK government’s funding of the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has enabled over a billion doses to be delivered at a non-profit price around the world, and as one of the first and largest donors, the UK helped establish the COVAX scheme to ensure equal access to doses for all globally.”

The director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), Thomas Cueni, said: “The supplies are available; now all efforts should  be focused on distributing and sharing doses.

“It would be our hope that the energy focused on  undermining intellectual property could be channelled into collectively addressing vaccine equity, supporting the growing political will of G20 countries to ensure the necessary, collective action to get jabs into arms; we all agree this is the right thing to do.”

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said: “Johnson & Johnson is dedicated to facilitating equitable global access to our Covid-19 vaccine.

“Where possible, we will provide support to countries that have excess vaccine doses in their efforts to share doses with countries where they’re most urgently needed, particularly through the COVAX facility, provided that a number of conditions are met to safeguard the safety of individuals and fulfil legal, regulatory, and logistical requirements.”