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Biden Covid-19 Summit

U.S. President Joe Biden (2nd L) speaks as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (L) listens during a virtual Covid-19 Summit of the United Nations General Assembly at the South Court Auditorium at Eisenhower Executive Office Building September 22, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Global Vaccine Goals 'Fall Terribly Short' Due to Big Pharma and Rich Nations' Greed: Experts

"Wealthy nations are using up the world's vaccine supply, and developing nations are suffering and losing thousands of people every day."

Brett Wilkins

As U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday kicked off a virtual Covid-19 summit with world leaders by announcing a deal with Pfizer to buy 500 million more coronavirus vaccine doses to donate abroad, public health experts warned that the administration's stated goals for tackling the pandemic are "woefully inadequate" to address the dire need for vaccines and treatments in the Global South.

"The global response to Covid-19 continues to fail millions of people in low- and middle-income countries across the world."
—Deborah Burger, NNU

Ahead of the summit, the White House asked participating nations to join the U.S. "in aligning around the global targets and taking the associated required actions to end the Covid-19 pandemic and build back better."

The Biden administration claims that these targets—which include supporting the World Health Organization's (WHO) goal of fully vaccinating 70% of the world's population within a year—are "ambitious."

However, Brook K. Baker, senior policy analyst at the advocacy group Health GAP (Global Access Project), wrote that "these targets fall terribly short of the ambition that's needed to stop this global pandemic," and that they "downplay the obligations of rich countries to reverse the horrific consequences of vaccine, testing, and therapeutics apartheid that they—and the biopharmaceutical industry—have engendered."

"Moreover," Baker added, "the money identified for getting shots into arms—$3 billion in 3021 and $7 billion in 2022—seems woefully inadequate. Vaccinating large populations, including people in rural and hard-to-reach locations, will require health system strengthening, an expanded and trained workforce, and community-based healthcare workers to overcome pockets of vaccine hesitancy."

Baker continued:

Inexplicably, the summit targets do not mention the need to overcome intellectual property barriers and to mandate—or forcibly incentivize—vaccine technology transfer from reluctant, uncooperative rightsholders. It is confounding to me that there is underutilized vaccine manufacturing capacity in other regions of the world and that governments refuse to mandate and fund technology transfer.

"The Biden administration should jettison its summit targets and instead engage proactively with leaders, especially from the Global South, to identify a bolder set of actionable targets that would simultaneously reverse private sector control over Covid-19 health technologies and massively increase coordinately public investments in defeating the pandemic in all corners of the world," Baker asserted. "The time for real leadership is now."

Other public health experts agreed.

"The global response to Covid-19 continues to fail millions of people in low- and middle-income countries across the world," Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United (NNU), said in a statement.

"While wealthy nations increasingly have resources to protect against this virus and treat patients suffering from it, others have been left without those resources," she continued. "The dramatic lack of access to vaccines, testing and diagnostic tools, and treatments in countries in the Global South is unacceptable and dangerous."

"The White House still has not mobilized all its resources to expand vaccine manufacturing and protect millions more lives that may be lost."
—Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen

Burger praised Biden for "convening an international summit during the U.N. General Assembly... and for taking action to increase global access to vaccines in recent months," as well as for being one of only a small handful of wealthy nations to support a World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver "to allow for the widespread production of vaccines."

"However," she said, "the shortage of highly effective vaccines in low- and middle-income countries continues today, and nurses recognize that donations will not be enough to address this shortage. Right now, just over 3% of people in low-income countries have received any dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. It is critical that wealthy countries work together to quickly increase production of vaccines and therapeutics."

Burger called on Biden "and other world leaders to immediately take action to increase manufacturing of and access to Covid vaccines and therapeutics," and to "commit to funding the immediate manufacturing of billions of additional doses of Covid vaccines within the next year."

She also urged the president to "use his full authority to require U.S. companies that hold monopolies over Covid vaccines and therapeutics to transfer their technology to manufacturers in the Global South" and to "reallocate excess doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the United States to low- and middle-income countries before those doses expire."

Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines program at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, warned in a statement that "wealthy nations are using up the world's vaccine supply, and developing nations are suffering and losing thousands of people every day."

"It is a fight over access to medicine and the basic right of countries to equip their own pandemic defense," said Maybarduk, who added that the summit's hosts "are unlikely to be significantly challenged by developing country governments and people at risk of losing their families."

"This means, as important as the summit is to corral further commitments, it will not produce the transformative response needed to end the pandemic," he said.

"Ending the pandemic is a choice. Leaders at today's summit have yet to make that choice," said Maybarduk. "The White House still has not mobilized all its resources to expand vaccine manufacturing and protect millions more lives that may be lost. Purchasing doses for donation sometime next year is helpful, but it does not meaningfully expand the global supply, and it is not justice."

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