US must stop hoarding excess COVID-19 vaccine doses

Tackling COVID-19 in Lebanon, through prevention and vaccination

Lebanon 2021 © Tracy Makhlouf/MSF

MSF calls on US government to publicly commit to monthly COVID-19 vaccine redistribution targets by the end of October

NEW YORK/GENEVA, OCTOBER 11, 2021—Millions of people remain at risk of dying from COVID-19 because high-income countries (HICs), including the US, continue to hoard excess vaccine doses, warns a new report released today by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The international medical humanitarian organization is calling on governments to commit to a concrete plan to redistribute vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) via COVAX or regional procurement bodies by the end of October.

Even while factoring in third-dose boosters for high-risk groups, high-income countries are hoarding an estimated 870 million excess doses—nearly 500 million in the US alone. The rapid redistribution of these doses to low- and middle-income countries could save nearly one million lives by mid-2022.

“Despite its claim to be a global leader on COVID-19, the US is hoarding nearly 500 million excess COVID-19 vaccine doses—more than any other country,” said Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs at MSF-USA. “It’s reckless and dangerous for the US and other high-income countries to be sitting on excessive stocks of COVID-19 vaccines while others—including in many places where MSF is battling surges of COVID-19—are desperate to provide their most vulnerable people with even their first dose. The longer people everywhere remain unprotected, the more lives will be lost and the more likely it is that new and potentially deadlier variants will take hold. The US must immediately make public and concrete commitments to redistribute excess COVID-19 vaccines globally if it truly wants to end this pandemic.”

More than 60 percent of people in HICs have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while less than 3 percent of people in low-income countries (LICs) have. While many people in LICs—including health care workers and high-risk populations go without—HICs are holding millions of excess doses that could expire if not urgently redistributed. It’s estimated that G7 and European Union countries alone could waste 241 million doses by the end of 2021, even after boosters for high-risk groups and donations pledged to be distributed by HICs by the end of 2021 are fulfilled. While many world leaders have made commitments to redistribute doses by the end of 2021 or into 2022, the world needs immediate action to ensure global access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Despite the desperate need for vaccines in LMICs, pharmaceutical corporations continue to prioritize sales to the wealthiest countries. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—which received significant US funding—have, respectively, allocated 78 percent and 85 percent of their COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to HICs. They are expected to make $26 billion and $19.2 billion, respectively, off sales of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 alone. As no COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer has shared the technology with the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa, potential manufacturers in LMICs are not able to help boost global supply.

“The COVID-19 vaccine inequity that pharma has created by putting profits before people’s health is nothing short of shameful,” Teicher said. “In addition to developing a concrete dose redistribution timeline by the end of October, the US government must demand that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna share mRNA vaccine technology and know-how with other manufacturers. Sharing mRNA technologies will increase the global production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines, saving lives in this pandemic and in the future.”

Pharmaceutical corporations’ decisions to put profits before public health has left LMICs, COVAX, and regional bodies like the African Union and the Pan American Health Organization struggling to access doses. COVAX recently had to decrease its anticipated 2021 supply forecast by approximately 25 percent due to delayed shipments by several manufacturers. Additionally, while earlier this year WHO had set a conservative target of 10 percent vaccination coverage for every country around the world by the end of September, 56 countries have missed this target. If low vaccination rates in any country continue, it is more likely that new variants will develop—including "variants of concern" like the Delta variant—which may prolong the pandemic and are a threat to health systems around the world.

In addition to immediately redistributing vaccine doses globally and demanding Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna share COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology, the US must remain committed and urge all countries to support the "TRIPS waiver" proposal at the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property monopolies on all COVID-19 products during the pandemic.