The Red Cross on Tuesday stressed the need for “extraordinary steps” to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world, including speeding up negotiations towards patent waivers.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement called for states and pharmaceutical companies to move much faster towards evening out glaring inequities in access to the jabs around the world.
Among other things, countries should accelerate thorny negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) towards removing intellectual property protections for the COVID vaccines, and other barriers blocking a rapid scale-up of production of the jabs around the world, it said.
“In the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, the intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines is a necessary political commitment to address inequities in access at the scale and speed we need,” Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in a statement.
“Millions of lives depend on it and on the equally important transfer of technology and knowledge to increase manufacturing capacity worldwide,” he added.
The WTO has since October faced calls led by India and South Africa for the temporary removal of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines, in what proponents say will boost production in developing countries and address the dramatic inequity in access.
But that notion has long met with fierce opposition from pharmaceutical giants and their host countries, which insisted patents were not the main roadblocks to scaling up production and warned the move could hamper innovation.
The positions appeared to shift earlier this month, when Washington came out in support of a global patent waiver for the jabs, and the European Union, France and other longtime opponents said they were open to discuss the proposal.
‘No silver bullet’
But the Red Cross statement cautioned Tuesday that the world could not afford “to become bogged down in negotiations over the next six months.”
It urged governments to speed up the sharing of their existing vaccine stocks to ensure a more equitable distribution, especially in countries now seeing surging COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Red Cross pointed out that currently the poorest 50 countries in the world account for only two percent of doses administered globally.
Africa for instance accounts for 14 percent of the global population, but has administered just one percent of the doses given so far.
At the same time, the richest 50 countries are vaccinating at a rate that is 27 times higher than that of the 50 poorest countries.
“Every option should be explored to overcome bottlenecks to equitable access,” Peter Maurer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in the statement.
“This includes a better distribution of existing vaccine doses globally, the transfer of technology and the ramping up of manufacturing capacity,” he said.
“There’s no silver bullet to equitable access. All possible means need to be considered.”