More Pain, More Gain! The Delivery of COVID-19 Vaccines and the Pharmaceutical Industry’s Role in Widening the Access Gap

Document Type : Original Article

Authors

1 School of Public Health, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV, USA

2 Department of International Relations, Federal University of Paraiba, João Pessoa, Brazil

3 Ozmen Institute for Global Studies, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV, USA

Abstract

Background 
An effective response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic entails a comprehensive strategy that ensures equitable access to all COVID-19-fighting technologies. To achieve this goal, the international community has acknowledged immunization as a public good. However, a trend of grossly unequal dose distribution emerged, owing, among other factors, to pharmaceutical companies’ profit-driven actions, jeopardizing the mechanisms built to increase vaccine access. The contradiction between public health interests and corporate discretion in determining vaccine dose distribution poses critical concerns about the health risks associated with lengthening the duration of the pandemic and the eventual liability of companies for violations of human rights.

Methods 
To evaluate the risks posed to the COVID-19 immunization program, data on vaccine allocation and delivery, vaccine dose application, immunized populations, and the volume of Advanced Purchase Agreements (APAs) between countries and pharmaceutical companies were compiled and assessed. A descriptive analysis was then conducted to analyze the role of pharmaceutical companies in providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Results 
When the data is broken down by income (as of June 2021), it shows that high-income countries (HICs) have already crossed the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) 20% immunization threshold. However, countries of all other income levels have yet to achieve this mark for fully vaccinated people. Upper-middle-income countries (UMICs) have approximately 3%, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have approximately 2% and low-income countries (LICs) have less than 0.1% of fully vaccinated people per hundred. The supply shortage is expected to last until the second half of 2021.

Conclusion 
As a result of the COVAX failure, a health gap emerged with countries living in a pre-immunization period for an extended time. The existing conflict between the international response to tackle COVID-19 and corporate profitdriven behavior contributed to prolonging pandemic, especially in Africa. Accordingly, there is a need to approve an international treaty that targets the activities of all actors, including the pharmaceutical companies, in protecting human rights and the right to health realms.

Keywords

Main Subjects


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Articles in Press, Corrected Proof
Available Online from 02 August 2022
  • Receive Date: 14 November 2021
  • Revise Date: 16 July 2022
  • Accept Date: 01 August 2022
  • First Publish Date: 02 August 2022