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People wait to be vaccinated in Nairobi, Kenya.

People in Nairobi, Kenya wait in line to receive vaccine doses against Covid-19 on April 12, 2021. (Photo: Robert Bonet/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

New Campaign Demands World Leaders 'Stop Playing Games' and End Vaccine Apartheid

"Global leaders like President Biden cannot ignore the deadly pandemic and gross inequalities in vaccine distribution that are the backdrop of the Olympics this year."

Julia Conley

As athletes from around the world prepare to compete in the Olympics in Tokyo—without any in-person spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than a year after the crisis began and despite the availability of effective vaccines—advocacy groups on Wednesday called on world leaders to "stop playing games" and end the apartheid that's keeping the Global South from accessing vaccine doses.

The People's Vaccine Alliance and Public Citizen launched their new Stop Playing Games campaign to demand that leaders of wealthy countries, 33 of which have vaccinated at least 50% of their populations, invest in a global vaccine manufacturing plan to produce and distribute doses at a faster rate in regional hubs around the world.

"This crisis is the direct result of political decisions by leaders of wealthy nations, who hoard vaccines and booster shots while billions of people wait, potentially for years, for their first dose."
—Campaign leaders

As part of the campaign, the groups will circulate a petition during the Olympic Games calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to invest $25 billion in the manufacturing plan, allowing the production of eight billion doses within a year—enough to vaccinate more than half of the world population and putting the global community much further on the path to ending the pandemic.
"Global leaders like President Biden cannot ignore the deadly pandemic and gross inequalities in vaccine distribution that are the backdrop of the Olympics this year," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. "They must share vaccine technology and invest in scaled-up manufacturing to produce billions more doses in order to end vaccine apartheid."

As of now, only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Last month, Oxfam reported that at the current rate, it would take 57 years for every person in the Global South to be fully vaccinated against the disease.

"This crisis is the direct result of political decisions by leaders of wealthy nations, who hoard vaccines and booster shots while billions of people wait, potentially for years, for their first dose," said Public Citizen and the People's Vaccine Alliance.

The campaign was launched as Pfizer announced it would begin manufacturing vaccines under license via a manufacturer in South Africa in order to produce 100 million doses for people in African countries. With countries including South Africa and Kenya experiencing surges in Covid-19 cases, Oxfam America and the People's Vaccine Alliance said the pledge was "simply not enough."

"To date, Pfizer has sold over 90% of their vaccines to rich nations only, while doctors and nurses are dying daily all over the developing world," said Robbie Silverman, a spokesperson for the People's Vaccine Alliance. "Africa is facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of vaccines now and these South African made doses won't start to be available until next year."

"Charity and largely symbolic measures by corporations will not deliver vaccines for everyone, everywhere," Silverman added.

Matthew Kavanaugh, a professor of global health at Georgetown University, called Pfizer's announcement a "cyclical, neocolonial move" in a country that would be better served by a requirement that Pfizer share its vaccine-producing technology.
The Stop Playing Games campaign is also demanding that companies share their recipes and technology with the Global South and that the World Trade Organization waives Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics. 
Although pharmaceutical companies have raked in tens of billions of dollars in revenue from distributing vaccines, which were developed with public funding, they are hardly closer to enabling low-income countries to protect their populations. While Moderna and Pfizer have offered doses through COVAX, the vaccine facility co-led by the World Health Organization, the facility "has only delivered 4.5% of the two billion doses it planned to deliver by the end of 2021," said Public Citizen.
As part of the Stop Playing Games campaign, during the Olympics the groups will share stories from the Global South of the lack of access to vaccines and will invite athletes to participate in the #StopPlayingGames challenge by speaking out against vaccine apartheid on social media.
With dozens of athletes testing positive for Covid-19 in recent weeks and spectators banned, "it will be impossible to ignore the impact of the pandemic on the Games and on our world," said the groups.

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