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July 14, 2020, 12:49 p.m. EDT

Rich countries may try to stockpile coronavirus vaccine, according to global health partnership founded by Bill and Melinda Gates

While no country can afford to buy doses of every potential vaccine candidate, many poor ones can’t afford to place such speculative bets at all

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By Associated Press

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Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is working with Gavi and others, said they would be talking in the coming weeks with countries who had signed deals with drug companies to secure their own supplies.

One possibility: They might ask countries to contribute their private vaccine stockpile to the global pool in exchange for access to whichever experimental candidate proves effective.

“We’ll have to find a solution because some of these arrangements have been made and I think we have to be pragmatic about it,” he said.

After a vaccine meeting last month, the African Union said governments should “remove all obstacles” to equal distribution of any successful vaccine.

Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief John Nkengasong said Gavi should be “pushing hard” on convincing companies to suspend their intellectual property rights.

“We don’t want to find ourselves in the HIV drugs situation,” he said, noting that the life-saving drugs were available in developed countries years before they made it to Africa.

Shabhir Mahdi, principal investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial in South Africa, said it was up to African governments to push for more vaccine-sharing initiatives, rather than depending on pharmaceutical companies to make their products more accessible.

“If you expect it to be the responsibility of industry, you would never get a vaccine onto the African continent,” Mahdi said.

Last month, Gavi and CEPI signed a $750 million deal with AstraZeneca to give developing countries 300 million doses of a shot being developed by Oxford University. But that deal happened after the drug company had already signed contracts with Britain and the U.S., who are first in line to get vaccine deliveries in the fall.

“We are working tirelessly to honor our commitment to ensure broad and equitable access to Oxford’s vaccine across the globe and at no profit,” said AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot. He said its contract with Gavi and CEPI marked “an important step in helping us supply hundreds of millions of people around the world, including to those in countries with the lowest means.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping has also vowed to share any COVID-19 vaccine it develops with African countries — but only once immunization has been completed in China.

The World Health Organization has previously said it hopes to secure 2 billion doses for people in lower-income countries by the end of 2021, including through initiatives like Gavi’s. About 85% of the world’s 7.8 billion people live in developing countries.

Kate Elder, senior vaccines policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said Gavi should try to extract more concessions from pharmaceutical companies, including compelling them to suspend patents on the vaccines.

“Gavi is in a very delicate position because they’re completely reliant on the goodwill” of drug companies, said Elder. She said the system of how vaccines are provided to developing countries needed to be overhauled so that it wasn’t based on charity, but on public health need.

“We’re just having our governments write these blank checks to industry with no conditions attached right now,” she said. “Isn’t now the time to actually hold them to account and demand we as the public, get more for it?”

Yannis Natsis, a policy official at the European Public Health Alliance, said the last thing on the minds of officials in rich countries is sharing with poor ones.

“Politicians are scared if they don’t throw money at companies, the citizens in the next country over will get the vaccines first and they will look very bad,” Natsis said.

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