Health Organisations Warn Pandemic Will Not be Over for Anyone Until it is Over for Everyone
Today the BMA, along with other leading bodies representing the nation’s healthcare professionals, has signed a joint statement1 expressing concern at the ongoing inequity in access to Covid-19 vaccines globally. With 98 low-income and vulnerable countries due to miss the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) end of year target to vaccinate 40% of their populations2, the BMA is now calling for the UK government to increase its support for COVAX3, the global vaccination programme to save lives and prevent the emergence of further Covid-19 variants and surges.
The Association believes that it is within the gift of high-income countries to achieve global vaccination. However, WHO targets for vaccine coverage have been repeatedly and drastically missed, with 56 countries failing in September to reach the minimum 10% coverage needed to protect healthcare workers and the most vulnerable groups.
Even after accounting for the vaccines needed for the current booster rollout, in order to tackle Omicron, the UK will still be left with a significant surplus of vaccines as the government has purchased over 500 million doses of vaccines4, some of which are not yet approved in the UK but are approved elsewhere.
The Association wrote to the Prime Minister in September and again earlier this month to raise its concerns and now in today’s joint statement on global vaccine equity it is calling for the government to:
- Raise its ambition and commitment to expedite vaccines reaching those most in need;
- increase its overall commitment to COVAX, as well as urgently swapping places5 with COVAX in vaccine manufacturing and delivery queues;
- publish a schedule for reallocation of doses to support COVAX;
- support a TRIPS waiver6 at the World Trade Organization during this global crisis; and
- encourage other G7 and G20 countries to increase their commitments to global vaccine equity.
Commenting on global vaccine equity Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: “It is appalling that the world’s richest countries continue to accumulate vaccine doses while the world’s poorest struggle with entirely inadequate supplies. The fact is that until Covid-19 is tackled as a global issue it will continue to threaten us all, including countries with high vaccination coverage – much like we’ve seen with the Omicron variant.
“The government must now lead by example to help protect vulnerable populations globally as well as our own population from future variants. Hoarding surplus vaccines when others have none will only backfire as new variants will inevitably develop in countries that have limited access to vaccines. The total number of vaccines administered worldwide in the past year was more than sufficient to cover 40% of the population in all countries, if it had been delivered equitably. Instead, only 1 in 107 people in low-income countries and just 25% of healthcare workers in Africa have received a single dose8.
“In the UK, much like many other G7 and G20 countries, the government has secured vaccine stock that it is never realistically going to use or need. We are not asking the government to swap out the stock needed for the booster rollout but rather to give from the country’s pre-purchased surplus in order to truly see the end of this pandemic. There is enough stock to go around, and it is imperative that Covid-19 is tackled at a global level.
“This pandemic is incredibly fast moving and it’s important to acknowledge that no one will be safe, until everyone is safe. We must end inequity in order to end the pandemic.”