Amnesty slams pharmas over 'unprecedented human rights crisis' of vaccine inequality

Amnesty slams pharmas over 'unprecedented human rights crisis' of vaccine inequality

A member of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) holds a sign calling for the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to give the green light to China's Sinovac and Russia's Sputnik vaccines, amid a third coronavirus wave. Picture: by Phill Magakoe / AFP via Getty Images

The six main companies behind the world’s Covid-19 vaccine production are fuelling “an unprecedented human rights crisis” by refusing to waive intellectual property rights and share vaccine technology, Amnesty International (AI) has said.

In a new report, Amnesty International also criticised AstraZeneca, BioNTech SE, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer for refusing to participate in initiatives aimed at boosting global vaccine supply.

AI said most of these companies had failed to prioritise vaccine delivery to some of the world’s poorer countries, and had dodged calls to prioritise and collaborate with Covax – the international programme aiming to ensure a fair global vaccine allocation – and opposed proposals to temporarily lift intellectual property rights, such as the World Trade Organisation Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS) Waiver.

The NGO said its new report, A Double Dose of Inequality: Pharma companies and the Covid-19 vaccines crisis, "paints a dismal picture of an industry that is woefully failing to respect human rights".

According to the report, fewer than 1% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated, compared to 55% in richer countries and the responsibility for this discrepancy lies with the companies behind the jabs.

'Wheeling and dealing in favour of wealthy states'

Of the 5.76bn doses administered worldwide to date, 79% have gone to upper-middle- and high-income countries. Just 0.3% have gone to low-income countries.

"Vaccinating the world is our only pathway out of this crisis. It should be time to hail these companies, who created vaccines so quickly, as heroes," said Amnesty International’s secretary-general, Agnès Callamard.

"But instead, to their shame and our collective grief, Big Pharma's intentional blocking of knowledge transfer and their wheeling and dealing in favour of wealthy states has brewed an utterly predictable and utterly devastating vaccine scarcity for so many others."

Amnesty International secretary-general, Agnès Callamard. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
Amnesty International secretary-general, Agnès Callamard. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Ms Callamard said countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have been “plunged into renewed crises” as a result of low vaccine availability, with weakened health systems being pushed “to the very brink” and "tens of thousands of preventable deaths” now being reported each week.

“In many low-income countries, not even health workers and people at risk have received the vaccine,” she said.

Paradoxically, Ms Callamard noted that BioNTech, Moderna and Pfizer are set to make $160bn combined by the end of next year.

Profits should never come before lives.

For its report, Amnesty International reviewed each company’s human rights policy, vaccine pricing structure, records on intellectual property, knowledge and technology sharing, fair allocation of available vaccine doses, and transparency.

AI said Pfizer and BioNTech had so far delivered nine times more vaccines to Sweden alone than to all low-income nations combined.

It also said Moderna and Johnson & Johnson would not deliver the vast majority of its orders for Covax until next year, and that AstraZeneca and Novavax have opposed the WTO’s TRIPS waiver.

The report says vaccine developers "have monopoliped intellectual property, blocked technology transfers, and lobbied aggressively against measures that would expand the global manufacturing of these vaccines." 

Their continued inaction has caused human rights harms suffered by the billions of people still unable to access a lifesaving Covid-19 vaccine.

Amnesty International called upon states and pharmaceutical companies to "drastically change course" and to "do everything needed to deliver 2bn vaccines to low- and lower-middle-income countries starting now" and meet a World Health Organisation target of vaccinating 40% of the population of these countries by the end of the year.

“Armed with billions of dollars of taxpayers' money and expertise from research institutions, pharmaceutical companies have played a pivotal role in developing life-saving vaccines," Ms Callamard said.

"But now they must take immediate action to provide billions more people with the chance to be inoculated."

  • Amnesty International's full report can be read here

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