New Global GoalsCast episode: how the distribution of the Covid vaccine is failing all of us

If you live in the United States or the UK –  or even most of Europe – you may have the impression the pandemic is coming under control

You’d be wrong– terribly, fatally wrong.

That is the subject of our new episode of Global GoalsCast which launched on Monday.

The pandemic is surging around the world…it is more severe than ever. 

Please give a listen, on or wherever you get your podcasts. and let us know what you think.

The topic is vaccines. No doubt they are a miracle. But are we using them the right way ?

In the podcast, Dr. David Nabarro, envoy of the world health organization, was asked that very question. Does it make sense to be getting ready to vaccinate kids in some countries, while in much of the world even frontline health workers have yet to receive a dose?.

Here’s what David Nabarro said,

“If I were the chief medical officer of the UK, and I wanted to suppress the circulation population of the virus through widespread vaccination, I’d have to vaccinate children. That’s because there’s abundant evidence that the virus is transmitted between children who don’t get so ill, but then it’s brought to the adults and that in turn can lead to severe illness or even death.

And so if you are using vaccination as your primary strategy for reducing the pandemic, then you’ll need to cover the children as well. Yet should any country be trying to vaccinate its way out of the pandemic at this time when it’s raging so fiercely, and when we have such massive suffering in so many parts of the world? For me, it’s not even a tricky moral question.

It’s a no brainer. You go to where it’s needed the most. And you defer taking delivery on vaccines. Now, if you’ve already got enough in stock and you release those vaccines so that they can go into Covax (the organization co-ordinating the distribution of vaccines globally)”

One of the questions we asked David Nabarro was ‘how does he feel about the way the rich world is vaccinating its way out of the pandemic, while much of the rest of the world, India, Latin America, Africa, is still in the deadly grip of the virus?’

To be clear, in higher income countries we are using vaccines to make it safe to go back to the office and out to lunch while others do not have enough vaccines to prevent people from dying.

Dr Nabarro said that inequity is what we should focus on.

“I’m increasing my efforts to focus on the purpose of the response.

Which is to ensure an equitable response that meets the needs of everyone, everywhere. But with those with greatest need being at the front of the queue and not those with the most money.

So the problem is the distribution of the vaccine. It is being distorted by commercial realities. Those who have the money have bought up the doses.”

David Nabarro also has some challenging words for governments in the Global North who he thinks are paying lip-service to supporting global campaigns against Covid, but in reality are hampering them by hoarding the vaccines.

“I’d like to say to the world – we’re 18 months into the current pandemic and it’s worse than ever. That’s where our attention should be focused. Are some governments are spending time proclaiming how great they are about supporting Covax and at the same time refusing to accept responsibility for sucking up millions of doses of the vaccine leaving Covax empty. They must be held to account for gobbling up vaccines, putting them into cold stores and then waiting till perhaps they might be needed for booster doses. And that adds to the inequity.

At the start of May US President Joe Biden threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines – – a sharp reversal of the previous U.S. position. The change has come largely due to mounting pressure from politicians in the US and indeed more than 100 other countries. 

Katherine Tai, Biden’s top trade negotiator, said

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.”

The move impressed David Nabarro, yet it won’t increase manufacturing capacity in the near term. 

“I think it’s a very good thing that a major nation has indicated that this is a reasonable thing to do. It’s been a proposal on the table for some time… It’s also really good also that the Biden announcement has come just before the World Health Assembly, but it’s not going to mean an immediate increase in availability of vaccines in order to scale up the production of a vaccine. Even if you’ve got it on license from Moderna or from Pfizer or from AstraZeneca, if you’re going to scale up production, you have to have a plant that can produce the vaccine. You will need to get the necessary certificate, a good manufacturing practice, and only then will it be any chance of getting even a national approval, let alone an international approval.”

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