MUMBAI: India must push for an equitable allocation of any coronavirus vaccine on behalf of low and middle-income countries, or rich economies such as the US and Europe will buy most of it, health experts and activists have warned.
This week member states of the World Health Organisation including India have to send in their comments on their position regarding an agreement on advanced market commitment for a global initiative to ensure that all countries have access to vaccine against Covid-19.
In the current framework, however, the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (Covax) agreement says countries that pay upfront will get 20% of the vaccine allocation, and low and middle-income countries (LMICs) will be eligible to get 3%.
“In the name of multilateralism, we should not end up endorsing an agreement where countries such as India are made to wait in a queue,” said K M Gopakumar Legal Advisor for Third World Network, an organisation that works on equitable access to medicines.
“There is also no clarity whether the developed countries would adhere to the norm of 3% and 20% allocation during the two phases and not end up striking bilateral agreement of their own,” he said.
“India should work with like-minded countries in Geneva and strengthen the WHO allocation mechanism to ensure fair and equitable access in real sense,” Gopakumar said.
Covax—an initiative by Gavi, a global public-private alliance for vaccines and immunisations, WHO and Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI)—is a financing instrument to incentivise vaccine manufacturers to produce sufficient quantities of potential coronavirus vaccines and to ensure access for developing countries. CEPI will fund the development of vaccine, Gavi will procure it and supply to developing countries, and WHO will be in charge of allocations.
Several high-income countries such as the US are simultaneously striking their own deals with pharmaceutical companies to secure their vaccine supply.
India, too, is banking on its manufacturing might and domestic candidates under development to get its Covid-19 vaccine, they said.
“It would be misleading to assume that because India is an important manufacturer of vaccines that automatically those who need it most will have access to it,” said Leena Menghaney, a lawyer with Doctors Without Borders.
“Given the various deals being struck by developed countries to reserve health products like vaccines for their own needs, it is critical that India set an important precedent by supporting the WHO’s equitable allocation framework,” she said.
Under the Covax initiative, it is estimated that $18 billion will be needed secure about two billion doses for equitable distribution.
In the initial phase, the goal is to raise $2 billion that would help immunise high risk groups such as healthcare workers, and the elderly, according to GAVI statement.
Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of CEPI, said countries can increase their chances of securing vaccine for their people at the earliest by participating in Covax and “contributing to a large and diverse portfolio of vaccines”.
“At the same time, through Covax, governments with limited or no ability to finance their own bilateral procurement can be assured access to life-saving vaccines that would otherwise have been beyond their reach,” he said in a statement released by CEPI in June.
“Gavi is not adhering to the original promise of equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines by now segmenting countries into two tiers: wealthier countries that self-finance vaccines and the donor-dependent countries,” Menghaney explained . Adding that under the Covax Facility, wealthier countries will not have to adhere to the forthcoming WHO global equitable allocation framework, whereas donor-dependent countries are obliged to abide by the WHO framework.
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