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Failure to vaccinate the world created "perfect breeding ground for Omicron"

December marked one year since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered. One year on, the same number of people in the UK have had boosters than are fully vaccinated in all of world’s poorest countries put together.


Campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance say the refusal of pharmaceutical companies to openly share their vaccine science and technology and the lack of action from rich countries to ensure access to vaccines globally have created the perfect breeding ground for new variants such as Omicron.

A year since a UK grandmother became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, great strides have been made to fully vaccinate over three billion people, but many poorer parts of the world have been left behind. While countries like the UK and Canada have had enough doses to fully vaccinate their entire populations, Sub-Saharan Africa has only received enough doses to vaccinate 1 in 8 people. The number of people in the UK who’ve had their third booster jab is almost the same as the total number of people fully vaccinated across all of the world’s poorest countries.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, which has over 80 members including the African Alliance, Oxfam and UNAIDS, are calling for pharmaceutical firms and rich nations to change course before it is too late.

Campaigners are urging rich nations, including the UK, to insist on the open sharing of successful vaccine technology and know-how and to fund a huge expansion in vaccine production all over the world.

The coalition, whose members and supporters in Wales include Oxfam Cymru, the Wales Overseas Agencies Group, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, Wales and Africa Health Links Network, Size of Wales, PONT, CAFOD, Christian Aid Wales and Disability in Wales and Africa, has condemned the UK Government for blocking existing plans which could enable this to happen.

The Welsh organisations say that the UK Government’s refusal to support the sharing of vaccine recipes and technologies, enabling an urgent scaling up of the global vaccination drive, will lead to further unnecessary loss of life across the world, and possibly in Wales.

Last month, an overwhelming majority of Members of the Senedd passed a motion laid by Plaid Cymru calling on the UK Government to join the 100 other countries – including the US – who are backing proposals to temporarily suspend the rules currently preventing vaccine science and know how from being shared.

Campaigners are now calling on the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford to speak out and personally urge the Prime Minister to act.

Sarah Rees, Head of Oxfam Cymru, said: “Last December the world was offered a glimmer of hope as the first vaccine dose was administered. But one year on, for millions of people living in low income countries around the world, that hope has long since vanished.

“The consequences of pharmaceutical companies being allowed to hold lifesaving vaccine recipes and technology hostage are crystal clear: there simply aren’t enough doses to go around and until there are, we’ll continue to see new variants like Omicron threatening lives, vaccine efficacy and fragile economic recoveries in all countries, including in Wales and across the UK.

“The First Minister must send a clear, personal message to Boris Johnson that if he continues to put patent and profit protection above saving lives, he is standing on the wrong side of history and Wales will not stand alongside him.”

Back in March, the Alliance along with 77 epidemiologists from some of the world’s leading academic institutions warned that unless we vaccinate the world, we’d be at risk of virus mutations that could render our current vaccines ineffective.

Campaigners now say that the UK and Wales cannot booster their ways out of the pandemic while leaving much of the developing world behind.

Claire O’Shea, Chair of the Wales Overseas Agencies Group, said: “The Omicron variant first identified in South Africa is a stark reminder to us all that global vaccine equity should be an absolute priority.

“The immediate response of the UK Government has been to expand the domestic booster programme. But where is the urgent action to vaccinate people for the first time in countries; especially in countries where health systems are far more fragile, and where those exposed to the virus are at greater risk of dying?

“The First Minster and Welsh Government must call on UK Government to support the Global South to manufacture their own vaccines. Countries should not be expected to rely on Covax and charity. They should expect justice. By continuing on this course, we will never find a route out of this global pandemic. We must act collectively.”

Last week Norway became the latest of more than 100 countries – including the US – to offer their support for the waiver, initially proposed by the governments of South Africa and India at the World Trade Organisation over a year ago.

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, said: “A year on from the first vaccine being given, the pandemic is still far from over for the world’s poorest people, millions of whom still face a lengthy wait for their first lifesaving dose. Protecting lives – both here in Wales and around the world – should be more important than protecting the outsized profits of pharmaceutical corporations who have already made billions from this crisis. As the leader of a globally responsible nation, the First Minister has a duty to speak out and call for the UK Government to compel pharmaceutical companies to share their lifesaving vaccines and technology with the rest of the world.”

 

For more information and interviews, please contact: Rebecca Lozza, Oxfam Media and Communications Adviser, Scotland and Wales: rlozza1@oxfam.org.uk

 

Notes to editors:

Information on the survey of epidemiologists carried out by the People’s Vaccine Alliance in March 2021 available here.