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A public notice hangs outside a vaccination center notifying a shortage of vaccines in the Mahim neighborhood of Mumbai, India on April 8, 2021. (Photo: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A public notice about a shortage of vaccines hangs outside a vaccination center in the Mahim neighborhood of Mumbai, India on April 8, 2021. (Photo: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Campaign Slams Vaccine Makers for Fueling 'Unprecedented' Human Rights Crisis

"Covid-19 vaccines must be readily available and accessible for all. It is up to governments and pharma companies to make this a reality."

Brett Wilkins

As part of the launch of a global campaign to hold governments and Big Pharma accountable for enduring vaccine inequality, Amnesty International on Tuesday published a report detailing how six pharmaceutical companies are driving an "unprecedented health and human rights crisis" by refusing to waive intellectual property protections and share vaccine technology with the Global South.

"Profits should never come before lives."
—Agnès Callamard, AI

The report, entitled A Double Dose of Inequality: Pharma Companies and the Covid-19 Vaccine Crisis (pdf), examines six companies "that now largely hold the fate of billions of people around the world in their hands"—AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer.

"While the vaccine developers claim to respect human rights, all of them—to differing degrees—have failed to meet their responsibilities," the report claims. "Through their actions and omissions, they have ended up causing or contributing to human rights harms suffered by billions of people lacking access to the Covid-19 vaccine."

The paper conitnues:

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have charged high prices for their vaccines and allocated almost all of vaccines so far delivered (as opposed to pledged) to high-income countries, putting profits before access to essential medicines. Despite the huge potential of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine for reaching poorer parts of the world, the company has been slow to move beyond high- and upper-income markets, and has actively obstructed efforts to license its technology.

According to the report:

  • While 55% of people in rich countries have been fully vaccinated, less than 1% of those in low-income nations are fully inoculated against the coronavirus;
  • Pfizer and BioNTech have so far delivered nine times more vaccine doses to Sweden alone than to all low-income countries combined;
  • Moderna has yet to deliver a single vaccine dose to any low-income nation; and
  • All six companies in the report refuse to participate in initiatives to boost global vaccine supply.

The new report marks the launch of the 100 Day Countdown, an effort spearheaded by Amnesty International (AI), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that calls for the delivery of two billion vaccine doses to low- and lower-middle-income countries by the end of the year.

"Covid-19 vaccines must be readily available and accessible for all. It is up to governments and pharma companies to make this a reality," AI secretary-general Agnès Callamard said in a statement Tuesday. "We need leaders like [U.S. President Joe Biden] to put billions of doses on the table and deliver the goods, otherwise this is just another empty gesture and lives will continue to be lost."

While welcoming Biden's effort to ensure that 70% of the world's population is vaccinated within the next year, more than 60 advocacy organizations warned in a letter published Monday that such an objective will remain out of reach unless his administration takes action to "ensure equitable vaccine distribution."

"We have no time to lose," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a Tuesday address to the world body's General Assembly in New York blasting the current state of global vaccine distribution as "an obscenity."

Callamard stressed that "vaccinating the world is our only pathway out of this crisis," adding that the actions of the companies in the AI report are "plunging parts of Latin America, Africa, and Asia into renewed crises, pushing weakened health systems to the very brink, and causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week."

"Against the backdrop of these gross inequalities, BioNTech, Moderna, and Pfizer are set to make $130 billion combined by the end of 2022," she added. "Profits should never come before lives."

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