Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A resident watches an artist put the finishing touches on a mural depicting frontline workers carrying a Covid-19 vaccine in Kolkata on January 2, 2021. (Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images)

A resident watches an artist put the finishing touches on a mural depicting frontline workers carrying a Covid-19 vaccine in Kolkata on January 2, 2021. (Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images)

'Wildly Uneven and Unfair': As Richest Gobble Up Vaccine Supply, 130 Poorest Nations Have Yet to Receive Single Dose

"Unless production is significantly increased, many people in developing countries won't get vaccines until 2024. The pandemic cannot be stopped anywhere unless people are vaccinated everywhere."

Kenny Stancil, staff writer

In a speech Wednesday on the importance of "ensur[ing] that everybody, everywhere, can be vaccinated as soon as possible," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres criticized what he called the "wildly uneven and unfair" coronavirus vaccination process that puts millions at "risk of being left behind."

"Just 10 countries have administered 75% of all Covid-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose," Guterres said.

As the pandemic's global death toll surpassed 2,430,000, Guterres described how "Covid-19 continues its merciless march across the world—upending lives, destroying economies, and undermining the Sustainable Development Goals."

"If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, or parts of it, it will mutate again and again," Guterres cautioned. "New variants could become more transmissible, more deadly and, potentially, threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics."

"This can prolong the pandemic significantly," he added, "enabling the virus to come back to plague the Global North. It will also delay the world economic recovery."

The U.N. chief was echoing critiques and warnings made last month by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and late last year by the People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition that includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now, and Oxfam.

Guterres called for the G20, a group of highly industrialized countries, to establish an Emergency Task Force to create a Global Vaccination Plan and "coordinate its implementation and financing." He said the task force "would have the capacity to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors," and noted that "the G7 meeting later this week can help create the momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources."

In addition to the dramatic gap in inoculation rates between rich and poor countries—a reality that critics of "vaccine nationalism" have dubbed "vaccine apartheid"—distribution within nations, including wealthy ones, has also been unjust, as Common Dreams has reported

For months, progressives have demanded that Big Pharma and the World Trade Organization (WTO) suspend the intellectual property restrictions currently impeding rapid and equal access to coronavirus inoculation throughout the world. 

All that is required to quickly and inexpensively manufacture an adequate global supply of vaccine doses to ensure free and timely access for all people worldwide, experts say, is for governments to exercise their power to revoke the pharmaceutical industry's monopoly control and patent protections over products developed in large part thanks to public funding.

While President Joe Biden was praised last month for rejoining COVAX—the WHO-supported international vaccine initiative that former President Donald Trump shunned—critics told the Biden administration that it was "not enough."

Guaranteeing the sufficient production and equitable distribution of doses on a global scale, said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, would require the United States to end its support for the WTO's deadly prohibition on sharing vaccine knowledge and technology.

As Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) explained in a statement released earlier this week, the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) "requires WTO signatory countries to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests, and the technologies used to produce them, [but] these rules block countries and manufacturers from accessing the formulas and know-how needed to boost production for Covid-19 vaccines, limiting access for millions around the world."

While "more than 100 nations are supporting a temporary, emergency 'TRIPS waiver'... for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics," that was introduced in October 2020 by India and South Africa, Schakowsky noted that "the Trump administration led the handful of countries opposed to the waiver at the WTO."

On Thursday afternoon, Schakowsky was scheduled to join Mustaqeem da Gama, South African Counselor to the WTO, and representatives from Doctors Without Borders and Public Citizen for an emergency webinar "on the WTO-Big Pharma collusion that threatens global production of Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics."

Echoing Guterres, who described vaccine equity as "the biggest moral test before the global community," Schakowsky said that "unless production is significantly increased, many people in developing countries won't get vaccines until 2024."

"The pandemic cannot be stopped anywhere," she added, "unless people are vaccinated everywhere."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

Ocasio-Cortez Says 'Elephant in the Room' Is Senate Democrats Blocking Their Own Party's Agenda

"The argument that we need to make here," the New York Democrat said of bipartisanship's dead end, "is that it's worth going it alone if we can do more for working people in this country."

Jon Queally, staff writer ·


On Climate and Covid-19 Emergencies, G7 Judged a 'Colossal Failure' for All the World to See

"Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world. In the face of these challenges the G7 have chosen to cook the books on vaccines and continue to cook the planet."

Jon Queally, staff writer ·


NYC Mayoral Candidate Eric Adams Rebuked for 'Dangerous' 400-Students-to-1-Teacher Theory

"Defunding schools to the point that we have a 400:1 student-to-teacher ratio so we can bankroll another huge expansion in an already-multibillion dollar police budget," said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, "is how you build a school-to-prison pipeline."

Jon Queally, staff writer ·


Lack of Patent Waiver Would Add Over $70 Billion to Cost of Vaccinating World: Oxfam

Most of that money, said a spokesperson for the group, "will go directly into the pockets" of Big Pharma shareholders.

Jon Queally, staff writer ·


Darnella Frazier Receives Pulitzer Special Citation 'for Courageously Recording the Murder of George Floyd'

"Without Darnella, Derek Chauvin never would have been tried and George Floyd would have been blamed by the state for his own death."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·