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Protesters walk with coffins from Parliament Square to Downing Street during a protest organized by the group Global Justice Now on October 12, 2021. (Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Covid-19 Vaccine Equity Index Reveals 'Failure of Historic Proportions'

"As many people across G20 countries start thinking of Covid-19 in the past tense, the stark reality of vaccine inequality should jolt us from this apparently comforting thought."

Amid ongoing criticism of deeply uneven access to Covid-19 vaccines, a new index measuring G20 nations' commitment to global equity for the life-saving jabs shows the world's wealthiest countries have fallen well short of sufficient action.

"The fair global distribution of vaccines isn't about charity; it is about justice... it is about doing what is right."

The index--published this week by Christian Aid and the People's Vaccine Alliance--is based on research from the independent think tank ODI and focuses on three areas that "can make or break global vaccine equity."

The three key areas explored by the analysis include: how much the G20 nations are financing vaccines and therapeutics globally; how they are procuring and sharing their doses, such as through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX initiative; and whether they back removing intellectual property restrictions on Covid-related technologies including through support for a comprehensive TRIPS waiver.

Double weight was ascribed to a nation's position on intellectual property, Christian Aid explained, asserting that "global policy changes such as a TRIPS waiver on vaccine production and political support to require pharmaceutical companies to share their recipes with vaccine manufacturers would have game-changing significance, particularly for poorer countries."

The graph below from the groups shows how each of the nations fared:

Commitment to vaccine equity index from Christian Aid

Max Lawson, chair of the People's Vaccine Alliance and head of inequality for Oxfam, said that the alliance has "continually argued rich countries must do more to tackle extreme vaccine inequality."

But, he continued, "this index documents clearly their appalling failure to do so, a failure that has cost millions of lives. A failure of historic proportions."

"The fair global distribution of vaccines isn't about charity; it is about justice and keeping promises," said Lawson. "It is about doing what is right."

In an analysis of the data, Christian Aid states that South Africa--whose president is being urged to reject a weakened compromise on a proposed Covid-19 intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organization--"is at the top of a not very impressive class."

[South Africa's] scores are barely 70% of what we might expect a fully committed government to do to support vaccine equity. Only five countries score above 50%; thirteen cluster between 37 and 49%, with South Korea a clear laggard on just 30% of the potential of an archetypal globally-minded government. These results show that there is much for each G20 government to do individually--and that if they coordinated properly--they could collectively spur significant changes globally. Notably, the USA is the only high-income country scoring above 50%, given some benefit of the doubt over its purported support for the TRIPS waiver proposed by South Africa and India.

The index came as the WHO stressed a need for continued measures to track and contain the virus and bemoaned the ongoing rich nation-poor nation divide in vaccination levels as not only a moral failure but a path toward extending the pandemic's economic and human devastation.

Just 12% of the population of low-income countries have received at least one dose--well below WHO's 70% by mid-2022 global target. In high-income countries, by contrast, 74% of the population, on average, has received at least one jab.

"As many people across G20 countries start thinking of Covid-19 in the past tense," says Christian Aid, "the stark reality of vaccine inequality should jolt us from this apparently comforting thought."

The group takes issue with "selfish actions of rich countries" that have contributed to the inequity, such as elbowing "their way to the front of the vaccine order queue," hoarding doses, and insufficiently financially backing the WHO-led ACT Accelerator, which sought to provide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and other technologies.

According to Patrick Watt, Christian Aid's interim chief executive, the index should serve as a call to action.

"The best way to reduce the risk of vaccine-resistant variants is by ensuring universal access to vaccines," he said, urging governments including the U.K. to drop their obstruction to an IP waiver.

"It is not promises that people need, it is vaccines," said Watt. "We must act on these lessons in real time in order to recover from the pandemic."

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