As Pfizer declares dazzling results, UN experts decry ‘vaccine hoarding’

UN human rights experts have criticised countries that are trying to monopolise any future vaccine against COVID-19.

In a statement issued from Geneva on Monday, they said the only way to fight the pandemic is to make affordable vaccines available to everyone in the world.

“There is no room for nationalism in fighting this pandemic,” the experts said focusing on universal access to vaccines.

Their statement came on the same day that Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE delivered dazzling preliminary results in a large phase-III trial for the vaccine candidate they are jointly developing. Markets rallied around the world on the news, but the sense of relief would have been dampened outside a handful of rich countries who have signed advance purchase agreements with the two companies.

The list of countries that have signed these agreements and their pre-orders look like this:

The EU- 200 million, with an option for a further 100 million doses.

Japan -120 million

USA- 100 million with an option for 500 million more

UK- 40 million doses

Canada – 20 million

(Note: each person to be vaccinated requires 2 doses)

The Pfizer CEO has indicated a capacity to deliver 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021. Most of that would be exhausted if the US and the EU exercise their options.

The UN experts in their statement said this pandemic with its global scale and enormous human cost, with no clear end in sight, requires a concerted, human-rights based and courageous response from all States.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

Their assessment contains guidance and recommendations for countries to help prevent and contain COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, some governments are trying to secure vaccines only for their own citizens,” the experts said, adding this would prove counterproductive because a successful fight against the pandemic depends on mass immunization.

“Viruses do not respect borders,” the experts said. “No one is secure until all of us are secure in an interconnected and interdependent world.

They said countries that strike deals to secure vaccines for their own population instead of engaging in a coordinated global effort to share them across borders, will not achieve their intended purpose.

They called on countries to support the COVAX initiative for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization.

“Under international human rights law, access to any COVID-19 vaccine and treatment must be made available to all who need them, within and across countries, especially those in vulnerable situations or living in poverty,” the experts said.

They also called for international cooperation and assistance between developed and developing countries to ensure widespread sharing of health technologies and know-how on COVID-19 vaccines and treatment.

In addition, the experts said, pharmaceutical companies also have a responsibility to respect human rights. They should not put profits ahead of people’s rights to life and health, and should accept restrictions on patent protection of vaccines they develop.

They welcomed the petition to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa to waive certain provisions of the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in order to improve prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

“This pandemic has affected the whole world,” the experts said. “Now the world must put aside misplaced individual initiatives to monopolise vaccines and supplies, and work together to defeat it.”

The experts are Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Anita Ramasastry (Chair), Dante Pesce (Vice-Chair), Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, and Githu Muigai, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, and Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development.

Source: United News of Bangladesh