Nov 15, 2021
The government of the United Kingdom threw out more than 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in August after they expired unused, a revelation that came as billions of people in low-income countries still lack access to a single dose more than a year and a half into the global pandemic.
"When vaccines are scarce and some countries have inoculated less than 1% of their population, this level of wastage is painful to see."
The Independent reported Monday that "the doses were no longer needed in Britain after the decision was made in May to stop offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger age groups because of concerns over rare blood clotting."
"This left an excess of vaccines, 604,400 of which eventually expired in August before being destroyed at the end of the month, according to data obtained by a Freedom of Information request," the British newspaper reported.
Vaccine equity campaigners voiced outrage at the news and warned the U.K.'s wasted doses will represent just "the tip of the iceberg" if rich countries continue to hoard shots and block a proposal to temporarily waive coronavirus-related patents. The U.K. has been one of the principal opponents of the patent waiver since India and South Africa introduced it at the World Trade Organization in October of 2020.
"This is just scandalous," Nick Dearden, director of the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, said of the wasted doses. "The government knew we wouldn't need them. But they've never had a plan to do anything except grab as many doses as they can, to hell with everyone else."
Last month, Doctors Without Borders released a report estimating that the U.K, the United States, Germany, Canada, and six other rich nations are set to have 870 million excess coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of the year, even when factoring in the rollout of booster shots for vulnerable populations.
"The rapid redistribution of these doses to low- and middle-income countries could save nearly one million lives by mid-2022," Doctors Without Borders said, noting that the U.S. alone is on pace to have 500 million surplus vaccine doses by the end of 2021.
"While many people in [low-income countries]--including healthcare workers and high-risk populations--go without, [high-income countries] are holding millions of excess doses that could expire if not urgently redistributed," the humanitarian group added. "It's estimated that G7 and European Union countries alone could waste 241 million doses by the end of 2021."
Victorine de Milliano, the U.K. policy adviser for Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement to The Independent Monday that "in a time when vaccines and other Covid-19 medical tools are scarce and some countries have inoculated less than 1% of their population, this level of wastage is painful to see."
"There has been almost total secrecy around vaccine supplies, as well as concrete plans to ensure fairer access for countries desperately in need of doses," she added.
As of the end of October, according to a report published last week by the Economist Intelligence Unit, rich countries had delivered just 43 million of the roughly 400 million doses they've pledged to developing nations. The report warned that unless immediate action is taken to speed up regional vaccine production and equalize distribution, many middle- and low-income countries won't achieve widespread inoculation against Covid-19 until late 2022 or 2023.
Anna Marriott, health policy manager at Oxfam International, said Monday that "there's a clear case that rich countries have to get their act together here."
"Their short-sighted vaccine nationalism and their free pass to big pharmaceutical giants to profit as much as they like from these these publicly funded vaccines," Marriott added, "is prolonging the pandemic and costing lives."
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