Fight against Covid vaccine monopoly to protect poorest countries, urges Christian Aid
“Apartheid VACCINE,” in which rich countries monopolize supplies of Covid-19 vaccines while populations in poorer countries wait years to be protected, must be fought, insists a new report from Christian Aid.
The report, Vaccine debts, published Monday, highlights a “triple whammy” facing the poorest countries: growing needs resulting from the pandemic, falling incomes and a “soaring” debt burden. To date, only about 2% of the world’s vaccine doses have been administered in Africa, although it is home to 14% of the world’s population. The slow deployment is due to “insufficient global supplies and the accumulation of doses by rich countries,” the report says, but a “spiraling debt crisis” is making matters worse.
Many African countries rely on the United Nations COVAX initiative (News, March 22, 2021), which aims to achieve global immunization coverage of 20% by the end of this year. Their debt burden makes it difficult for them to get vaccines outside of the program or pay for the resources they need to administer the vaccines once they have been secured.
The IMF estimates that more than half of African countries are in “debt distress” or at high risk: the share of income devoted to debt repayment has increased from 20% before Covid to 30% today. Research from the Jubilee Debt Campaign shows that up to $ 11.3 billion in IMF funding to support 28 countries severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis goes to private lenders.
Existing measures to support indebted countries are inadequate, says Christian Aid. A deal delaying rather than canceling debt repayment agreed by the G20 a year ago does not include commercial creditors, and many countries are afraid to sign up for fear of damaging their credit ratings. African countries eligible for inclusion face debt repayments of $ 30.5 billion in 2021, more than double the estimated cost of immunizing the continent.
Among the inequalities highlighted in the report is the relative cost of the vaccine: Uganda paid around three times the price the EU paid per dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. While Canada and other countries have pre-ordered ten doses of the vaccine for each person, the African Union has obtained enough for just one in four people in the region.
In January, the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that more than 85 of the poorest countries would not have widespread access to coronavirus vaccines until 2023. Christian Aid warns that “vaccine apartheid” poses a threat not only to these countries but for the world at large, echoing the World Health Organization’s statement that “None of us are safe until all of us are”.
Its report makes five recommendations: debt cancellation for developing countries; the inclusion of private creditors in a debt agreement agreed by the G20; vaccines provided at cost to low-income countries; exemption from vaccine patents so that developing countries can stimulate production at home; and a “solidarity package” agreed by the countries so that all countries can contribute to the fight against Covid-19 and the climate crisis.
Although the recorded prevalence of Covid in Africa is much lower than in other regions (to date there have been 4.7 million cases of the virus in Africa – out of a population of 1.3 billion – and 126,000 deaths), the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that the death rate is increasing in some countries.
Dr Patrick Walker, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, told a Sky News investigation in March that the suggestion that Africa had been ‘spared’ had become ‘a narrative particularly dangerous. The trajectories of Covid-19 have been very variable, even between neighboring countries, and in some African countries some of our less optimistic projections are quickly becoming a reality. “
The government announced this week that it will convene a virtual summit on global vaccine confidence on June 2 to “tackle misinformation” on Covid-19 vaccines.
Global taxation. Changes in taxation may be the key to ensuring that the world’s poorest countries have access to Covid-19 vaccines, suggests a Church Action for Tax Justice report.
The report, A global tax plan for a global pandemic, by Dr Justin Thacker, calculates that a global minimum corporate tax rate of 21%, proposed by US President Joe Biden, in addition to a minimum effective tax rate (METR), would allow 30 of poorest countries in the world to immunize at least 20% of their population. While the Biden proposal would mean that US-based multinational companies would be required to pay taxes in every country where they did business, the TEMI, proposed by economists, would mean that a higher proportion of those taxes would go to countries in which businesses operated (often in low income countries).
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, welcoming the report, said this week: ‘Finally, there are signs that some richer economies are waking up to both their responsibilities and the steps they can take to flesh out these responsibilities. We have a crucial window of opportunity to reframe our attitudes towards taxation and make it work for everyone. “