An area of focus the last two years at the WTO has been addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included various statements from Members, monitoring by the Secretariat of export and import actions either impeding or expediting the flow of medical goods and services, and various proposals for actions to address the pandemic or for future preparation. The proposal for a waiver from various TRIPS obligations from India and South Africa (and now supported by a range of countries) is one proposal. A number of countries (Ottawa Group) have put forward a proposal for a trade and health initiative to permit a more rapid response by WTO Members in the future. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, BRAZIL, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN,
KENYA, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, MEXICO, NEW ZEALAND, NORWAY, SINGAPORE AND SWITZERLAND, 24 November 2020, WT/GC/223; November 27, 2020: The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/. The WTO Director-General and the Members have engaged in a number of meetings with other multilateral organizations and the private sector exploring options for expanding production of COVID-19 vaccines and expanding distribution to countries in need.
Amb. David Walker of New Zealand has been tasked to work with Members to see if a declaration on trade and health can be agreed to at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that starts on November 30.
A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, provided his thoughts on likely outcomes at the 12th Ministerial during a WITA virtual event on November 18th and opined that a declaration on trade and health was likely only if there was some resolution of the waiver proposal for vaccines. See PIIE, Alan Wm. Wolff, Defining Success for MC12, 18 November 2021, Presented at WITA, slides 5, 7, 10-11. Slide 10 is presented below.
I have written before on the challenges of the waiver of TRIPs obligations proposal put forward by India and South Africa. See, e.g., November 2, 2020: India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.
The EU and some others have not agreed to a waiver but have focused on making compulsory licensing more effective. See, e.g., DRAFT GENERAL COUNCIL DECLARATION ON THE TRIPS AGREEMENT AND PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF A PANDEMIC, COMMUNICATION FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION TO THE COUNCIL FOR TRIPS, 18 June 2021, IP/C/W/681.
Thus, the outcome on trade and health heading into the Ministerial is uncertain. See WTO News Release, Members to continue discussion on a common COVID-19 IP response up until MC12, 19 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_18nov21_e.htm.
A driver behind the waiver proposal has been the limited availability of vaccines to least developed and some developing countries. Vaccine equity is the shorthand term for the concerns about availability and affordability of vaccines for all people. While the issue of availability and access is complicated and beyond just WTO competence, the world’s vaccine manufacturers have ramped up capacity and production, governments have belatedly gotten involved in expanding donations and some of the major bottlenecks to getting vaccines to COVAX in 2021 appear to be resolved going forward, though many LDCs and developing countries will not get large volumes of vaccines until 2022.
The pandemic and the challenges of ramping up production and ensuring access to all people has been the subject of dozens of my prior posts. See, e.g., October 12, 2021: See WTO Information Notes on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and Potential Bottlenecks, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/12/wto-information-notes-on-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-potential-bottlenecks/; September 27, 2021: Global efforts to expand COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution — an all hands on deck effort being led by the U.S. and EU with active support of many governments and others, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/27/global-efforts-to-expand-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-distribution-an-all-hands-on-deck-effort-being-led-by-the-u-s-and-eu-with-active-support-of-many-governments-and-others/; May 6, 2021: COVID-19 vaccines — role of WTO and developments at May 5-6, 2021 General Council meeting on TRIPS Waiver, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/06/covid-19-vaccines-role-of-wto-and-developments-at-may-5-6-2021-general-council-on-trips-waiver/.
Prior to 2021, global capacity for all vaccines was estimated at 5 billion doses/year. In 2021, COVID-19 vaccine production alone will be around 10 billion doses. As of November 20, 2021, UNICEF’s COVID Vaccine Market Dashboard shows 8.624 billion doses delivered to countries and territories of which COVAX deliveries were 524 million (and 565 million delivered or cleared for shipment). https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard (visited on November 20, 2021).
Administration of vaccine doses to populations has been less than doses delivered. Data from Blomberg’s COVID Vaccine Tracker as of November 19, 2021 9:34 a.m., shows 7.63 billion doses administered. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/ (visited November 20, 2021). From the Vaccine Tracker data, there are a large number of countries or territories (95) that have administered 100 or more doses to every 100 people in the country. As major vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna need two shots, and as some countries have started supplying boosters, data are not necessarily comparable across countries in terms of percentage of people vaccinated. But the doses administered per 100 people is a reasonable measure of equitable distribution. A review of the data do show large differences in administration of doses. However, which countries or territories have administered large numbers of doses/100 people is not tied to a country or territory having vaccine production capacity, nor is it tied to level of income in the country or territory.
For example, the top ten countries or territories for administering doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the Bloomberg report were:
Gibraltar, 279.2 doses/100 people
Cuba, 244.2 doses/100 people
Chile, 207.5 doses/100 people
Maldives, 204.8 doses/100 people
UAE, 201.6 doses/100 people
Bahrain, 191.7 doses/100 people
Uruguay, 190.7 doses/100 people
Malta, 185.9 doses/100 people
Cayman Islands, 183.7 doses/100 people
Seychelles, 182.7 doses/100 people
China ranked 16th at 172.1 doses/100 people; the United States ranked 66th at 134.0/100 people; EU members were generally greater than 100 doses/100 people but had several member states below that (Bulgaria at 45.4 doses/100 people; Romania at 73.0 doses/100 people) and had an overall average of 138.7. Morocco had the most doses/100 people for a country from Africa — 136.5.
Twenty-eight countries or territories have administered between 75 and 99.4 doses/100 people (including India at 84.6 doses/100 people); twenty-three countries or territories have administered between 50 and 73 doses/100 people (including Rwanda at 65.2 doses/100 people and Botswana at 52.8 doses/100 people); twenty-two countries or territories have administered between 25 and 47.1 doses/100 people (including South Africa at 41.4 doses/100 people); thirty-three countries or territories have administered between 0.2 and 18.7 doses/100 people.
Obviously, there are a large number of countries (including some developed countries) where vaccines administered are far too limited. For many developing and LDC countries with low numbers of doses administered, the failure of supplies to be delivered to COVAX for shipment is certainly a significant cause. India’s need to keep vaccine doses at home was a major cause of the shortfall to COVAX in 2021, but not the only reason.
Belatedly larger volumes of vaccine doses are making it to those in greatest need. The increases flow from a combination of increased production volumes globally, India resuming exports, increases in donations from a number of countries and more. For example, the UNICEF data on deliveries shows that there have been some significant increases in doses available to the countries or territories with very low doses administered levels. For example, Nigeria shows only 4.6 doses/100 people administered in the Bloomberg vaccine tracker data. The UNICEF vaccine market dashboard shows roughly three times the number of doses delivered to Nigeria as are reported administered (29.689 million vs. 9.254 million). Benin has 1.968 million doses delivered and just 0.347 million administered (2.9/100 people). It is also true for countries receiving doses from COVAX with higher existing doses administered. For example, Zimbabwe which had 42.3 doses administered per 100 people in the Bloomberg data showed nearly twice as many doses delivered in the UNICEF data as had been administered (11.322 million doses delivered vs. 6.31 million doses administered).
What the two reports suggest is that while vaccine equity is a real issue, the causes of the very different experiences of different countries or territories in the same general area are complex and not easily or completely understood by the current discussion. For example, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people. Similarly, Morocco had a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,980 and COVID vaccines administered of 136.5/100 people. In comparison, South Africa with a much higher per capita GNI in 2020 ($5,410) had COVID vaccines administered at less than 1/3rd the rate of Morocco – 41.4 vs.136.5/100 people. Nigeria, with a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,000 had administered only 4.6 COVID vaccines/100 people.
Thus, those working on improving vaccine equity need to identify and address the other causes besides vaccine production and availability through COVAX in the coming months.
I paste below the data from the Bloomberg COVID Vaccine Tracker ranked in descending order of COVID vaccine doses administered per 100 people as of November 19, 2021.Countryvaccines