Wealthy countries are rushing to book upcoming coronavirus vaccines leaving poor countries in the cold.
The absence of a collective response to develop and widely distribute a coronavirus vaccine, has raised concerns that rich countries can gobble up the drug supply to meet the needs of their own citizens.
A group of rich countries, representing 13 percent of the world’s population, have reserved around half of the vaccine supply already, according to Oxfam.
The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, Hong Kong and Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel have signed deals with manufacturers to get their hands on 51 percent of doses when production starts.
This is happening when the World Health Organisation (WHO) is struggling to convince governments to join its COVAX initiative, which seeks to make vaccine doses available to rich and poor countries alike.
Launched earlier this year, COVAX wants wealthy countries to pool funds together, which can be used to develop and scale up vaccine production. In return, the rich countries would have a guaranteed supply for between 10 percent and 50 percent of their population.
The initiative basically subsidises the supply of doses to dozens of poor countries where up to 20 percent of the population will receive the vaccine. This way, the WHO can guarantee a market for vaccines to manufacturers and negotiate a fair price.
But the Financial Times recently reported that WHO has faced hurdles in getting commitments from rich countries.
WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has asked governments to join the initiative.
“While there is a wish amongst leaders to protect their own people first, the response to this pandemic has to be collective,” he said.
According to the organisation, nine vaccine candidates have reached phase 3 trials, including four from China, and three from the US.
Instead of coming together with a joint strategy, some of the most financially well-off nations have moved to secure their own supplies.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has signed a $1.5 billion deal with biotech firm Moderna to buy 100 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine.
Washington has pumped billions of dollars in efforts to develop a vaccine. The funds have gone to around eight vaccine candidates including those being developed by AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer.
AstraZeneca has deals with Germany, France, Netherlands and Italy. The UK government has secured 60 million doses from Glaxosmithkline and Sanofi, in addition to millions of shots of vaccines being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Governments choosing to prioritise their own people could lead to disruptions in global supply chains, as seen when countries started to hoard face masks and medical protective gear at the start of the pandemic.
Vaccines, which work by enhancing the immune response to the virus, generally take years to be developed. The urgency to deal with coronavirus, however, which has already killed around 946,685 people worldwide, has forced developers to compress the process into months.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Microbiology, and the Mechnikov Research Institute of Vaccines and Serums of Russia, have set up a joint lab to test vaccines and run trials.
Russia has already projected itself to be ahead in the race with the registration last month of a vaccine called Sputnik V - which is named after the famed Soveit satellite.
Such a collaboration is expected to help health experts share data on clinical trials and the efficacy of different vaccines.
Senior US government officials, including Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have expressed concerns over the vaccines being developed by Beijing and Moscow.