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Rich nations dominate global vaccine allotments

Last Updated Aug 14, 2021 at 12:45 pm EDT

This photograph released by UNICEF on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021 shows the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arriving at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. (Francis Kokoroko/UNICEF via AP)

Low-income countries were supposed to get COVID-19 vaccines through a shared international system instead of waiting at the back of the line for unreliable donations from rich countries.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Some rich countries bought up doses through the initiative known as COVAX despite already having vaccines. Britain received more than twice as many COVAX doses in June as the entire continent of Africa.

A tally by The Associated Press shows many poorer countries have landed in exactly the predicament the initiative was supposed to avoid.

Brook Baker, a Northeastern University law professor who specializes in access to medicines, says it’s unconscionable that rich countries would dip into COVAX vaccine supplies when more than 90 developing countries have no access. COVAX’s biggest supplier, the Serum Institute of India, stopped sharing vaccines in April to deal with its surge of cases.

Often rich countries don’t want to donate significant amounts before they finish vaccinating all their citizens. The U.S. never got any doses through COVAX, although Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are among those that did. Canada got so much criticism for taking COVAX shipments that it won’t request more.

Venezuela has yet to receive any doses from COVAX. Haiti has received less than half of what it was allocated, Syria about a 10th. In some cases, officials say, doses weren’t sent because countries didn’t have a plan to distribute them.

British officials confirmed the U.K. received about 539,000 vaccine doses in late June and has options to buy another 27 million shots through COVAX.

The COVAX initiative, run by the World Health Organization, has delivered less than 10 per cent of the doses it promised so far. COVAX is also in partnership with the vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a group launched in 2017 to develop vaccines to stop outbreaks.