Concerns raised over ‘equitable access’ to COVID-19 vaccines

Campaigners also calling for full transparency of Coronavirus trial data before conclusions made on a vaccine’s efficacy.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

27 Nov 2020

The demands come after it was recently announced that three separate vaccines may soon be available for roll out to tackle the deadly pandemic.

These include a vaccine developed by Oxford University and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

Disquiet, however, is currently growing over the way the Oxford initiative has handled the early readout from trials of their Coronavirus vaccine.

Vaccines by Pfizer, in collaboration with the German company BioNTech and a third, by Moderna, have also developed. Each are said to be “highly effective” vaccines which are currently awaiting authorisation by regulators.

But MSF Access Campaign, part of the respected Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says vaccines should only be approved after they have proved to be “safe and effective.”

All those concerned should also "share all the necessary technology, data and know-how.”

“The world is eagerly awaiting positive results of COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in the hope of having a tool that will help get this pandemic under control, yet their eventual approval means very little if they’re not distributed equitably to people all over the world at a fully transparent, at-cost price”  MSF Access Campaign's Dana Gill

There is particular concern about the equitable access to any vaccines that come on stream.

Dana Gill, a policy advisor at MSF Access Campaign, said, “The world is eagerly awaiting positive results of COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in the hope of having a tool that will help get this pandemic under control, yet their eventual approval means very little if they’re not distributed equitably to people all over the world at a fully transparent, at-cost price.”

“The public’s ability to assess an affordable price requires transparency.”

This, she said, includes a “detailed breakdown of the price, as well as all of the costs associated with developing its candidate vaccine.”

MSF says, for example, that an estimated nearly 80 percent of the projected initial doses of Moderna’s vaccine are “already tied up in non-transparent bilateral deals” with high-income countries, including the United States.

This, it says, leaves “an insufficient amount for developing countries and crisis-affected humanitarian settings, while supply remains scarce.

Spanish Socialist MEP Javi López shares such concerns and has called for “universal and fair access to a future vaccine, adding, “Any future vaccines against Covid-19 must be universal, free and accessible to all. This is why we are calling for international organisations to handle the fair distribution of vaccines.”

“Any future vaccines against Covid-19 must be universal, free and accessible to all. This is why we are calling for international organisations to handle the fair distribution of vaccines” Javi López MEP

EU leaders called on the G20 last weekend to ensure “affordable and equitable access to vaccines for all people.”

The EU and its Member States are closely cooperating on such issues as part of the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative and COVAX facility.

This is a global initiative which is designed to ensure fair access to vaccines and also help tackle the economic fallout from the crisis. It is estimated that COVID-19 is costing the global economy more than $500bn a month.

A European commission source said more than 180 countries and economies are now involved in the COVAX facility, adding, “The world recognises that our best hope of ending the acute phase of this pandemic and the only truly global solution is COVAX. It is also the only way to ensure that people in all countries get rapid, fair and equitable access once safe and effective vaccines become licensed.”

COVAX and ACT-A are working with pharmaceutical companies to have manufacturing in place so that doses can be procured and produced at scale, as soon as vaccines receive regulatory approval and are licensed.

The Commission source said the initial aim is to have two billion doses available by the end of 2021 – half of which will go to lower-income countries – “which should be enough to protect high-risk and vulnerable people, including frontline health and social care workers, across the world.”

“No effort should be spared to ensure that vaccination is fast and can reach every single citizen in the EU. This means keeping costs low, ensuring fast distribution, and coordinating public authorities. Low VAT rates will help ensure high vaccination rates.” Stephanie Yon-Courtin MEP

"What is so unique about this is that these doses will be made available to people in all participating economies – rich or poor – at the same time. This will be the single largest and most rapid global vaccine deployment we have ever seen”

“It provides a lifeline to the majority of countries that would otherwise have limited or no access at all to COVID-19 vaccines. For those that are already negotiating bilateral deals with vaccine manufacturers, it is an insurance policy, guaranteeing them vaccine doses even if those bilateral deals fail to produce safe and effective vaccines.”

The World Health Organisation has also identified three groups of people as highest risk who should get priority access to COVID-19 vaccines: frontline health and social care workers; people over the age of 65; and people under 65 who have underlying health conditions.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the European Parliament agreed to allow Member States to reduce or eliminate the Value-Added-Tax (VAT) rate on COVID-19 vaccines and related testing devices until 2022.

MEPs from the main political groups agreed to amend the council directive on the common system of VAT.

Stephanie Yon-Courtin, an French MEP from the European Parliament’s Renew Europe Group, said, “No effort should be spared to ensure that vaccination is fast and can reach every single citizen in the EU. This means keeping costs low, ensuring fast distribution, and coordinating public authorities. Low VAT rates will help ensure high vaccination rates.”

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