The ‘Powder Keg’ of Vaccine Inequity

Anger over gaps in global vaccine access is boiling over, The Washington Post reports.

Wealthier countries—just 16 percent of the world’s population—have a lock on 50%+ of near-term supply, according to Duke University.

The Quote: “It’s outrageous ethically, morally, scientifically,” says the WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove, warning: “We have all the kindling to start fires everywhere … We’re sitting on a powder keg.”

A key supplier lost:

  • India, facing its own out of control outbreak, has curbed vaccine exports, threatening vaccination efforts around the world—particularly in Africa, The New York Times reports.

  • As the key COVAX supplier, India had shipped out 60 million+ doses to 70 nations, but the interruption could grind vaccinations in some African countries to a halt.

  • Some African countries prioritized getting as many first doses out as possible—and they’re now left scrambling to figure out second doses.

Anger at US: 

  • The US is sitting on tens of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines even as vaccine supply is starting to outstrip demand in a number of states.

  • Sub-Saharan Africans have received just 6 million doses—fewer than many individual US states.

  • The divide is also straining fault lines between high-income neighbors: Ontario Premier Doug Ford has suggested that Canada’s “closest friend” should be helping more: “I thought I’d see a little bit of a change with the new administration, but, again, it’s every person for themselves out there.”

Patently unfair:

  • Pressure on the US is ramping up to not only release materials to help India restart manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine but to temporarily waive pharmaceutical patent protections for poorer countries. 

  • Last month, the US, Britain and members of the European Union shot down a World Trade Organization proposal to waive the rights—but it’s expected to be back on the table in May.
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