Medecins Sans Frontieres: 870m Vaccine Doses Being Hoarded by 10 Rich Countries – ‘Tragedy’ for Those Deprived of Jabs
The redistribution of available vaccine doses could avert an estimated one million deaths by mid-2022, found a new MSF report, renewing calls for increased dose redistribution.

The hoarding of more than 870 million excess doses of COVID-19 vaccines in just 10 high-income countries is likely to deprive hundreds of millions of healthcare workers and vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries of the opportunity to get even a first vaccine dose, according to a new report by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The report maps doses that will be available until the end of 2021 in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and seven other European countries – even after all people age 16 and over were fully vaccinated and third booster doses administered to those at risk. 

The excess doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021 after vaccinating people ages 16 and up in ten high-income countries.

Those forecasts of excess doses are conservative – in light of the fact that most high income countries have only reached 70% vaccination coverage of those groups, at best, with vaccine campaigns leveling off after that.  

Based on its analysis, MSF said there is added urgency for high-income countries redistribute excess doses to LMICs, with support for rollout as well. It also repeated previous calls asking pharma companies to prioritize vaccine sales to LMICs.

“If excess COVID-19 vaccine doses are not urgently redistributed, millions of doses could be wasted as they lay idle in HIC storage and are unable to be used before their expiry date.b G7 and EU countries alone could waste 241 million doses by the end of 2021. This would be a tragedy given the urgent need in LMICs,” states the report, published on Thursday.

Timeline critical for dose redistribution – opportunities narrowing fast 

“An additional concern is the timeline for dose redistribution,” the report states. 

“If doses are ‘dumped’ towards the end of the year instead of being steadily redistributed, LMIC health systems may not have the capacity to absorb these doses and they would be wasted, especially if these doses are close to their expiry date. 

This is why it is essential that HICs begin redistributing doses now and commit to clear delivery schedules by the end of October 2021.” 

The report’s authors also stressed that it’s far preferable for  high income countries to redistribute their excess doses through the WHO co-sponsored global COVAX facility – to ensure that doses are redistributed to where there is greatest need and where health systems are able to absorb them. 

This was a message underlined by a COVAX advisory committee recently – saying that bilateral country donations may yield good political capital – but not be as efficient in terms of really getting the doses used effectively. 

Finally, vaccine donations should be accompanied by technical support to actually help LMICs administer the jabs, the report stressed. 

“Not covering these costs will compromise countries’ implementation capacity and therefore the effectiveness of vaccination strategies.”  

World far from WHO’s 40% end-year vaccination goal

The world is currently far from reaching the WHO vaccination targets of vaccinating 40% of the population of all countries by the end of this year and 70% by mid-2022. Some 56 countries failed to meet the goal of reaching 10% vaccination coverage by the end of September. 

In addition, the COVAX Facility has fallen far behind its supply forecast. 

Over 60% of people in high-income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, but less than 3% of people in low-income countries have. 

At this stage, healthcare workers and vulnerable people in LMICs will not receive their vaccinations until after the majority of wealthy countries’ populations are fully protected, including with booster shots.

Nearly one million COVID deaths could be averted by dose-sharing

Dose redistribution now is also the fastest way to save lives, said MSF. 

The report estimates that nearly one million COVID deaths could be averted by mid-2022 if available excess doses are redistributed by the end of the year.

“If the world is not urgently vaccinated, it is more likely that ‘variants of concern’ (VOC) will develop and spread globally,” said the MSF report. “The public health, ethical, human rights and economic justifications for ensuring equitable and rapid access to COVID-19 vaccines that can save lives and limit the spread of COVID-19 are clear.”

The doses shared should be suitable, affordable and have sufficient remaining shelf life, MSF added.

Failures of the COVAX Facility

The urgent calls to rich countries for more dose sharing come as the global COVAX vaccine Facility, created with high ambitions to support the development, procurement, and distribution of vaccines, continues to fall far short of its original distribution timeline.

Some fifteen months after the global COVAX was established, the Facility has delivered 230 million doses and is “severely off course” to achieving its goal of delivering two billion doses by the end of 2021, the MSF report noted.  

According to MSF, COVAX failures are related to its “business-as-usual approach,” which allowed pharma companies to decide which countries would be first supplied. 

The inclusion of LMIC governments, regional bodies, and civil society organizations in the design of COVAX would have led to a body more reflective of the needs of LMICs, said MSF. 

As a result, the COVAX model shouldn’t be replicated for future pandemics. Instead regional procurement mechanisms could help regions take better control of their own vaccine manufacturer and supply, the MSF report concluded.

Image Credits: VPalestine/Twitter, WHO PAHO, MSF.

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