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A family mourns a loved on in Ecuador

A family mourns at the grave of a loved one in Quito, Ecuador on November 2, 2021. (Photo: Cristina Vega Rhor/AFP via Getty Images)

'Donation Model Has Failed': Supremacy of Greed Decried as Covid Summit Begins

"Enough is enough," said Anna Marriott of Oxfam International. "It's time for governments to take bolder action to put people before profits."

Jake Johnson

Rich governments' persistent refusal to share key coronavirus vaccine and treatment technology was in the spotlight Thursday as world leaders convened for the second United States-led Covid-19 summit, an event that comes as roughly 85% of people in poor nations remain unprotected from the deadly disease.

Ahead of the virtual gathering, public health campaigners warned that the World Health Organization's goal of achieving 70% vaccination against Covid-19 in each country by September is falling further out of reach as wealthy countries—including the U.S.—fail to meet their modest donation pledges and obstruct progress on a temporary patent waiver.

"Governments must step in and ensure everyone, everywhere has the vaccines they need."

"The donation model has failed to deliver vaccines, has thwarted effective vaccine rollout plans, and is completely unsustainable," said Julia Kosgei, policy adviser to the People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 90 advocacy organizations. "More than two years into the pandemic, millions have yet to have the initial doses needed to protect them from this deadly disease."

"How is it that my elderly grandma in rural Kenya is still unprotected from Covid, yet pharmaceutical companies are hitting unheard of profits and say the world is 'swimming' in doses?" Kosgei asked. "These corporations have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not willing to do the right thing for humanity. Governments must step in and ensure everyone, everywhere has the vaccines they need."

According to the WHO, just 15% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated against the coronavirus thus far, leaving billions vulnerable to a pandemic that has killed an estimated 15 million people worldwide since 2020 and continues to kill thousands each day. The Covid-19 death rate has been significantly higher in poor nations, which have been denied sufficient access to both vaccines and newly developed therapeutics.

During a press conference earlier this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Covid-19 infections are rising in more than 50 countries, fueled by the emergence of highly contagious Omicron subvariants.

"The relatively high population immunity from vaccination and previous waves is keeping Covid-19 hospitalization and deaths rates at a comparably low level compared to previous waves," Tedros added. "But this is not guaranteed for places where vaccination coverage is low. With this backdrop, the Global Summit on Covid-19 co-hosted by U.S. President Biden this Thursday is another opportunity to focus minds on the job at hand."

Joining Biden in hosting Thursday's summit are Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal. At the start of the event, Biden pledged millions of dollars to a World Bank fund to prepare for future pandemics and to pilot programs aimed at broadening vaccine and treatment access in low-income countries.

The president also vowed to license key government-owned vaccine and treatment technology to the WHO-backed Medicines Patent Pool and pressed Congress to approve additional funding for the domestic and international coronavirus response.

An aid package negotiated in the Senate has been stalled for more than a month as Republicans obstruct and Democrats prioritize approving military aid for Ukraine.

Advocates have argued that Biden—who promised to make the U.S. the "world's arsenal for vaccines"—has not done nearly enough to live up to his commitments to help fight the pandemic globally.

"It is both shameful and imprudent that the United States is coming to this summit with no additional funds committed to support the global Covid-19 vaccine rollout," Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights, said earlier this week.

“New and emerging variants imperil progress against the pandemic," warned Heisler. "Thousands of people still die each day. Covid-19 continues to roil health systems and societies. It is thus shortsighted and a failure of leadership for the United States, with all its economic and technological might, to not bring new commitments to the global fight against Covid-19."

In a statement Thursday, the People's Vaccine Alliance called on Biden "use his influence to ensure all world leaders back" a sweeping suspension of patent protections that are hampering efforts to expand coronavirus vaccine and treatment manufacturing in developing countries.

The Biden administration endorsed a patent waiver last May, but it has since been accused of dragging its feet and allowing European allies to stonewall progress toward a final agreement.

"At this second Covid summit, we should be acting urgently on the key thing low- and middle-income countries are asking for: the ability to make their own vaccines for their own people," said Anna Marriott, health policy manager at Oxfam International. "Our task is to prepare for the worst so that countries are in the best position to respond to what comes next."

"The unwillingness to share the vaccine technology and funding shortfalls are stunting our global response to Covid-19. Governments, including the U.S., must step up funding," Marriott continued. "Enough is enough. It's time for governments to take bolder action to put people before profits."

A coalition of African faith leaders echoed that message in a statement Thursday, declaring, "World leaders must renew their approach to tackling the response to the global pandemic by treating Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatment not as commodities but as public goods, which all people have the right to access."

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