A guide to Amnesty International’s policy recommendations on COVID-19 vaccines
The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is gathering pace, and it seems like there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel. But as wealthy countries continue to hoard doses, the lifesaving potential of vaccines risks being undermined by inequality and corporate interests.
Now is the time to demand that COVID-19 vaccines are available to everyone – regardless of where they live, who they are, or what they can afford.
COVID-19 is a truly global crisis, and we will only solve it through global cooperation and respect for human rights.
If we get this right, we can end COVID-19 and build a more just and sustainable future. Here’s what needs to happen:
Human rights must be considered when deciding who to prioritize
The question of who should get vaccines first is complex – we all have the right to be protected against COVID-19. But initial supplies will be limited, and we need to prioritize those who are most at risk. Health workers, older people, and people with pre-existing health conditions are among the groups being considered for priority access.
But governments need to consider human rights factors which put some individuals and communities in a more vulnerable situation. As well as exacerbating pre-existing inequalities, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people who have been historically marginalized and discriminated against.
For example, Indigenous Amazonian communities in Ecuador often face a higher risk due to scarcity of drinking water, food sources, medical supplies, health services and COVID-19 tests. In April an oil spill polluted the food and water sources of many communities, increasing their risk of infection.
People living in overcrowded refugee camps in unsanitary conditions are also likely to be at higher risk from infection. Furthermore, in many countries, migrants and refugees without documents often do not have access to health care, including vaccines.
There must be careful consideration of risk and exposure factors like working and living conditions, and access to sanitation, when making decisions about allocation. Narrow definitions of risk could leave the people most in need of the vaccine unable to access it.
Similarly, early allocation to health workers must consider everybody working in the health sector – not just doctors and nurses but drivers, administrative staff, care home workers, and many more.
Countries must work together
Under international human rights law, countries have an obligation to work together to respond to the pandemic, and wealthier states have a special responsibility to assist states with fewer resources. But some governments have already adopted a “me first” approach that could undermine the efficacy of a future vaccine.
Research by Oxfam found that wealthy nations, representing just 13 per cent of the global population, have already bought up more than half of future vaccines. This means more than half of the promised doses of the five leading vaccine candidates are already taken. As of November 2020, more than 80% of the planned 2021 supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines have already been sold to rich countries.
As well as denying millions of people their human rights, “vaccine nationalism” is alarmingly short sighted. The World Health Organization estimates that for us to reach herd immunity, we need to vaccinate roughly 70% of the global population. Hoarding vaccines for a privileged few will not end this pandemic.
States need to cooperate to make sure everyone has access to vaccines when they become available. This means wealthier states should refrain from making large