Call for global vaccine equity on the second anniversary of the pandemic

Last Updated on 15 March 2022 by Catherine Kelliher

Simeon Mitchell, Secretary for Church and Society for the United Reformed Church, reports on the call for global vaccine equity as we reach the second anniversary of the start of the pandemic: 

Two years ago, on 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation officially declared that the Covid-19 outbreak had become a pandemic, meaning the virus had spread over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and affecting a large number of people. It was a few days later that we were all told to minimise contact with other people, and then to stay at home.

In the UK, restrictions have lifted and it now feels like things are starting to get back to normal for many of us. But the pandemic is far from over. Covid-19 is still causing around 50,000 deaths a week globally.

One of the major reasons for this is the unequal distribution of vaccines. Today, more than 130 former world leaders, Nobel laureates, leading scientists, economists, humanitarians, faith leaders, business leaders, trade unionists, and celebrities have joined together under the banner of the People’s Vaccine Alliance to call for urgent action to vaccinate low and middle-income countries and bring an end to the pandemic. The signatories include the Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of URC General Assembly, who signed the letter on behalf of the United Reformed Church.

While in the UK, over three-quarters of the population have received at least one jab, in low income countries the number is only one in seven. In some countries like Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the figure is less than 1%.

A slower and delayed vaccination rollout in low and middle-income countries has left them vulnerable to Covid-19 variants, new surges of the virus and a slower recovery out of the crisis. Many people are suffering hunger and destitution as a result of lockdowns and continued economic hardship, and there is a huge social impact of children missing many months of school.

Some of this comes down to finances, and underlying global economic inequalities. While high income countries have had to increase their health care spending by an average of 0.8% to cover the cost of vaccinating 70% of the population, in lower income countries it requires a 50% increase in spending to achieve the same result.

But a more significant factor has been access to supplies of the vaccines themselves. Wealthy nations have been at the front of the queue for vaccines, while many poorer countries have so far missed out. The monopolies that a few major drug manufacturers have on production and distribution of vaccines mean that the market, not need, has determined priorities when supplies have been limited.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called the distribution of vaccines “scandalously unequal”, adding “this is a moral indictment of our world. It is also a recipe for more variants, more lockdowns and more sorrow and sacrifice in every country. Our world cannot afford a two-tier recovery from Covid-19.”

In its letter, the People’s Vaccine Alliance points out that “the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland continue to block the lifting of intellectual property rules which would enable the redistribution and scale-up of COVID-19 vaccines, test and treatment manufacturing in the global south. The transfer of largely publicly funded vaccine technology and know-how from pharmaceutical corporations would fast track production to a matter of months”.

It urges world leaders to unite behind an approach based on the principles of equity and solidarity, and calls on governments and pharmaceutical companies to:

  • Commit to fully vaccinate 70% of the global population by mid-2022
  • Suspend vaccine patents in order to widen access to supplies
  • Properly fund research and public health systems
  • Ensure all vaccines, treatments and tests are provided free to people

Read the letter here.

What can you do?

Give thanks for your vaccine by donating to our appeal with Christian Aid – providing practical support in the world’s poorest countries.

Send a message to world leaders – send a tweet to the Prime Minister through the People’s Vaccine Alliance website.

Listen to a short podcast from the Joint Public Issues Team, exploring these issues further.

Find out more at a ‘Decolonise Vaccines’ event with Global Justice Now, our Commitment for Life partner.