A shopper walks past a sign on the entrance to a pharmacy that reads "COVID-19 Vaccine Not Yet Available" in Burbank, Calif., on Tuesday. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 8 (UPI) -- As governments worldwide begin to secure COVID-19 vaccines and prepare to inoculate citizens against the coronavirus, international organizations warned Wednesday that poor countries will be left to fight the pandemic as the richer ones recover -- a breach, they say, of their human rights obligations.
The People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of health and humanitarian organizations, said the world's richest nations have "hoarded" vaccines and warn that unless the pharmaceutical industry and governments take action, only 10% of people living in nearly 70 poor nations will be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of 2021.
The coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam, said an analysis of data shows that while dozens of nations wait for vials of vaccines, the world's richest countries have already secured enough doses to inoculate their populations nearly three times over.
"The hoarding of vaccines actively undermines global efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere can be protected from COVID-19," Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International head of Economic and Social Justice, said in a statement.
"Rich countries have clear human rights obligations not only to refrain from actions that could harm access to vaccines elsewhere, but also to cooperate and provide assistance to countries that need it."
The data collected by science information and analytics company Airfinity shows that rich nations representing just 14% of the world's population have secured 53% of all the most promising vaccines, leaving 67 low- to lower middle-income countries to struggle with infections.
"No one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket," said Anna Marriott, Oxfam's health policy manager. "But unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 for years to come."
The announcement came as Britain is rolling out its inoculation effort, injecting its first residents with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mulls emergency use of the Pfizer drug and one developed by Moderna.
The coalition said all doses by Moderna and 96% by Pfizer/BioNtech have already been secured by rich nations while AstraZeneca, which has partnered with Britain's University of Oxford, has pledged to provide 64% of doses it produces to developing nations -- but that will only cover, at most, less than 20% of the world's population.
Those three companies, the alliance said, have received more than $5 billion in public funding for the effort.
"By buying up the vast majority of the world's vaccine supply, rich countries are in breach of their human rights obligations," said Cockburn of Amnesty International. "Instead, by working with others to share knowledge and scale up supply, they could bring an end to the global COVID-19 crisis."
The World Health Organization has been calling on the international community to join its COVAX vaccine initiative since it launched in June with aims to manufacture and provide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines worldwide.
WHO officials have been warning against vaccine nationalism for months and last week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the program still requires tens of billions of dollars from the international community.
While developed countries have gone directly to the pharmaceutical corporations to secure vaccines, the majority of developing nations have no choice but to share those in the COVAX pool, the People's Vaccine Alliance said, calling on the pharmaceutical industry to share their technology with the WHO program.
"We need to put pharmaceutical industry profit aside during this unprecedented pandemic, both to save humanity and the economy," said Lois Chingandu, director of Frontline AIDS.
On Tuesday, Doctors Without Borders called for a global approach to accessing vaccines, stating the pandemic will not end unless the cure is sold at cost.
"Right now, we're in a situation where the lion's share of the limited number of first doses have already been bought by a handful of countries, like the U.S. and U.K., as well as the EU, leaving very little for other countries in the short term," Dr. Sidney Wong, executive co-director of Doctors Without Borders' Access Campaign, said in a statement.
The international organization said that at a moment of such hope while countries prepare to inoculate their residents, it's disheartening to see the pharmaceutical industry reluctant to share crucial information to ensure affordable access to a vaccine.
Dana Gill, U.S. policy advisor for the Doctors Without Borders' Access Campaign, accused the pharmaceutical industry and governments of "shirking their responsibilities" to taxpayers.
"No company should be allowed to profiteer off the back of this pandemic," Gill said.