Doctors for Vaccine Equity aim to highlight the vast inequities in COVID-19 vaccine access worldwide. We are calling for the Irish government to support the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on global vaccine equity including the following actions:
Support the TRIPS waiver to allow vaccine production in the Global South as a sustainable solution
Facilitate urgent global redistribution of current vaccine supplies and commit to rational purchasing to avoid vaccine hoarding and wastage
Ensure that any strategy for booster vaccines is ethical within a global context
We are seeking colleagues within the Irish medical community to help us show the strength of support for these aims by signing above at the “Show Your Support” button. So far, more than 120 doctors have joined us.
Doctors for Vaccine Equity aims to bring together doctors in Ireland who wish to support equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. We are a partner group of the Peoples Vaccine Alliance of Ireland and the Irish Global Health Network and are guided by the recommendations of the World Health Organization. The group welcomes support from all doctors who share its objectives.
The people of Ireland have achieved incredible vaccination rates, approaching 90% of those eligible. This has greatly reduced virus transmission, illness and death, and has allowed for the reopening of society. This national success however is falsely reassuring. Only 1.9% of people living in low income countries have received a COVID-19 vaccination, falling well short of even the minimum 10% coverage required to protect the most vulnerable individuals. Ongoing high levels of transmission risks viral mutation and the emergence of vaccine resistant strains which would put the entire global vaccine programme in jeopardy.
Global access to COVID-19 vaccines is essential in order to bring the pandemic to an end. The current shameful vaccine inequity has been described as the single biggest moral and scientific failure of the crisis, and that is why we as doctors in Ireland are coming together to advocate for change.
At present, vaccine production remains in the control of a handful of pharmaceutical companies whose priority is to sell vaccines to countries in the Global North. It is only by facilitating generic production that the geographical spread of manufacturing capacity and an adequate vaccine supply can be guaranteed. For this to come about Ireland must advocate for the support of the TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver at EU level.
The TRIPS waiver is a motion put to the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for health technologies needed to prevent, contain, or treat COVID-19, and complements the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP). This waiver would remain in place “until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity.” Details of the TRIPS waiver are outlined here and here.
It is estimated that by the end of 2021 there will be 1.2 billion excess doses within Global North countries, even after they have given everyone over 12 years old a full course and a booster dose. If rich countries do not redistribute their current vaccine stocks, it is estimated that between 1 and 2.8 million lives could be lost among those remaining unvaccinated.
It is an ethical imperative to avoid vaccine hoarding and vaccine waste. Ireland and the EU must immediately seek to redistribute current vaccine supplies to countries with low vaccination rates. They could do so by swapping their near-term vaccine deliveries with COVAX, and by fulfilling their dose-sharing pledges immediately. It is important to note that while charitable donations towards vaccine purchase can be helpful in the short-term, they do not address the root causes of vaccine inequity and will not adequately increase the supply of vaccines.
Many high-income countries are considering or have already begun to roll out booster doses for their populations. More vaccines for people who have already been afforded protection of a first course, means fewer doses for those who have not yet had any vaccine in low-income countries, including healthcare workers and vulnerable people. The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until the end of the year, to allow for the distribution of first vaccine courses globally.
We support the WHO Interim Statement on COVID-19 vaccine booster doses, which states that vaccination policy should be evidence-based. It highlights the complexity of decision making and emphasises: “the importance of the prioritization of globally limited vaccine supply” further stating, “that prioritization should be given to the prevention of severe disease”. We are advocating that everyone should have access to vaccines that afford them protection against COVID-19.
More information can be found on the People’s Vaccine Alliance of Ireland website.
Dr. Ciara Conlan
Registrar in Medical Virology, Dublin
Dr Kieran Harkin
GP Inchicore Family Doctors and Inclusion Health Service, Dublin 8
Dr Christine Kelly
Infectious Diseases SpR , Dublin
Professor Susan Smith,
GP Inchicore Family Doctors, Dublin 8 and Professor of Primary Care Medicine, RCSI