The inequality in COVID-19 vaccine distribution is hitting low and middle-income countries harder, with India likely to lose $786 billion, or over 27 per cent of GDP, because of global vaccine inequities, non-profit group Oxfam has said.
Citing estimates of the International Chamber of Commerce, Oxfam said vaccine inequality at today's scale could cost the world around $9.2 trillion in economic losses, in the worst-case scenario, with rich countries suffering half of that blow. Despite this, rich countries are among those opposing efforts by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to break open the monopolies of big pharmaceutical companies, a move that would help other manufacturers to mass-produce more and cheaper vaccines.
It urged the rich countries to open the way to cheaper mass-produced COVID-19 vaccines in order to protect every person in the world. It said the current approach for global production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is falling far short of what is needed.
"Oxfam, with other members of the People's Vaccine Alliance, is calling for an end to 'vaccine apartheid' which is seeing rich nations vaccinate one person a second whilst many developing nations have yet to administer a single dose," the organisation said in a release.
The Alliance called for US President Joe Biden and other rich country leaders to show immediate support for lifting pharmaceutical monopolies and intellectual property rules to enable a huge scale up in global vaccination.
"The US, UK, Germany, France, Japan and Italy together could lose as much as $2.3 trillion in GDP this year unless they stop fighting on behalf of a handful of big drug companies to retain the intellectual property of the vaccine - despite this status quo plainly failing both them and everyone else," Anna Marriott, Public Health Manager for Oxfam said.
While India could lose $786 billion because of vaccine inequities, South Africa could see 24 per cent of its GDP wiped off, Oxfam said, adding that Philippines could be stripped of up to 18 per cent of its GDP this year.
"A People's Vaccine is possible if WTO members waive these companies' intellectual property, as India, South Africa and nearly 100 other countries are demanding, and the vaccine science and technology are shared through the WHO's Coronavirus Technology Access Pool (C-Tap). Countries from around the world, including the richest G20, are meeting this week to discuss the global economic and health crisis which makes this a perfect moment for a breakthrough," Marriott added.
Oxfam also urged IMF members to endorse $650 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) issuance, which will be enough for low-income countries to nearly double their healthcare spending for a year. The issue of scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines and a new allocation of SDRs will feature at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's Spring Meetings scheduled for April 5-11.
"Together, these two initiatives would go a long way towards providing the public health protection and economic stimulus that people and countries all over the world desperately need. Urgent action is needed as COVID-19 continues to spike, mutate and kill whilst continuing to wreak economic havoc," it said.
SDRs are currency instruments, formed from a basket of national currencies, used by the IMF, and assigned to its member countries.