G20’s bitter divide on global vaccine inequality could condemn world to an “endless pandemic”, charities warn

  • UK and Germany blocking waiver of vaccine patents and technologies supported by US, Indonesia, France, India and other G20 leaders.
  • Over 80% of G20 population live in countries that support COVID-19 Intellectual Property waiver

Failure to tackle global vaccine inequality at this weekend’s G20 summit could prolong the pandemic, civil society groups have warned, if leaders do not address structural problems they have so far ignored allowing COVID-19 doses to be hoarded by rich nations.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 75 organisations including Oxfam, Amnesty International, the African Alliance, UNAIDS, and Global Justice Now, is calling for G20 leaders to unblock global supply shortages by waiving intellectual property and sharing technology of COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics  and treatments.

G20 countries represent 62% of the world’s population but have used 82% of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines. Only 3.1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

The G20 are deeply divided on a proposal to temporarily suspend intellectual property rules on COVID-19 technologies to allow wider vaccine production. Rather than constructively negotiate this life-saving proposal, led by South Africa and India, rich country members Germany and the UK have prevented unified G20 action to protect billions of people.

G20 members such as President Rhamaphosa of South Africa have spoken out bitterly about the continued intransigence of rich nations on the patent issue and the vaccine apartheid this is creating.

Eighty-two per cent of the G20 population live in countries that support the waiver, yet the measure is being blocked by just three opposing G20 members: the UK, Germany and, by extension, the EU. The UK and Germany have fully vaccinated three times as many people, relative to population, than India and South Africa.

The alliance is calling on G20 leaders to pressure the UK and Germany to resolve the dispute, which would allow all safe manufacturers approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to produce COVID-19 vaccines, unlocking the world’s productive capacity to end the pandemic.

Anna Marriot, policy lead for the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said:

“It’s an absolute scandal that the G20 has wasted a year ignoring a proposal, backed by the majority of its members, to break vaccine monopolies and ensure the life-saving vaccines can be made around the world to save countless lives. The G20 is turning its back on the thousands of children orphaned every day by this pandemic. G20 leaders who support the waiver must not be silenced by the rich country members like the UK and Germany. It is beyond time to act.”

Indonesia, a G20 country that supports the waiver, told a WHO press conference earlier this year it could manufacture 550 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines a year, but intellectual property and secrecy around vaccine knowhow have held it back.

Ahead of the G20, People’s Vaccine activists are holding stunts in Italy and the United States to demand government action on global vaccine inequality [details in notes].

Tamaryn Nelson, advisor on right to health from Amnesty International said:

“When the G20 met last year, 1.3 million people had died of COVID-19 and leaders vowed to spare no effort to ensure access to vaccines for all people. A year later, not much has changed, except another 3.5 million people lost their lives to COVID-19. It’s unconscionable that G20 leaders are not taking sufficient action while tens of thousands of people continue to die every week.

“Countries sitting on excess vaccines must redistribute these doses now and pharmaceutical companies need to share the know-how needed to scale up global production. Anything short of this is depriving billions of people of lifesaving vaccines and medicines. We have no more time to waste.”

A report last month from Amnesty International found that large pharmaceutical companies were fueling an unprecedented human rights crisis through their refusal to waive intellectual property rights and share vaccine technology, criticising AstraZeneca, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer for refusing to participate in initiatives to boost global vaccine supply.

Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now, said:

“Armed with effective vaccines and abundant manufacturing capacity, we should be able to swiftly vaccinate the world from COVID-19. But, unless we clear away vaccine patents, it will be years before global south countries receive the jabs, leading to countless deaths and increasing the risk of deadly new variants. G20 leaders like Boris Johnson must finally agree to redistribute the jabs they have hoarded and waive vaccine intellectual property at this summit, or they risk condemning the world to an endless pandemic.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, has repeatedly called for governments to support an intellectual property waiver at the WTO. Last week, Dr Bruce Aylward, a senior leader at the WHO, warned the COVID-19 crisis could “easily drag on deep into 2022” because of global vaccine inequality.

Epidemiologists have warned that global vaccine inequality threatens to undermine our current generation of vaccines, while a report from the Wellcome Trust and Institute for Government warned that virus mutations will “chip away” at the protection offered by vaccines.

Maaza Seyoum from the African Alliance said:

“The staggering inequality of global manufacturing and distribution has given rise to a system of vaccine apartheid – and even G20 countries, like South Africa and Indonesia, have found themselves at the sharp end. An endless stream of false promises of vaccine donations from rich countries has failed to materialise. We cannot wait for charity. It’s time to remove the intellectual property barriers and share the knowhow needed for low and middle-income countries produce COVID-19 vaccines for ourselves.”

Earlier this month, the People’s Vaccine Alliance found  that just one in seven of the 1.8 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses promised by rich nations have been delivered to date, totaling just 261 million doses. Western pharmaceutical companies have delivered only 12 percent of the doses they allocated to COVAX, the initiative designed to help fairly distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

The Peoples’ Vaccine Alliance is calling for G20 leaders to:

  • Suspend intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines, tests, treatments, and other medical tools by agreeing to the proposed temporary waiver of the TRIPS Agreement at the World Trade Organisation. 
  • Demand and use all their legal and policy tools to require pharmaceutical companies to share COVID-19 data, know-how, and technology with the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and South Africa mRNA Technology Transfer Hub. 
  • Invest in decentralised manufacturing hubs in developing countries to move from a world of vaccine monopolies and scarcity to one of vaccine sufficiency and fairness in which developing countries have direct control over production capacity to meet their needs. 
  • Immediately redistribute existing vaccines equitably across all nations to achieve the WHO target of vaccinating 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of 2021 and 70 per cent of people in all countries by mid-2022. 


Notes to editors


  • In the US, activists will hold a rally in Washington DC at McPherson Square at 4pm on October 28th to put pressure on the administration for a real plan to vaccinate the world and end the pandemic. Link here https://actionnetwork.org/events/endthepandemic/  
  • In Italy, People’s Vaccine activists from Amnesty, Emergency and Oxfam will organise a media stunt in Rome in Piazza Vittorio at 10am on October 29th to urge the G20 to act on global vaccine inequality. Additionally, a PVA truck will drive around Rome from October 29th to October 31st stopping at the stunt and the G20’s Summit venue to deliver a message to the global leaders. Contacts: Mariateresa Alvino, 348.9803541, mariateresa.alvino@oxfam.it ; David Mattesini, 349.4417723, david.mattesini@oxfam.it

The People’s Vaccine Alliance report “A Dose of Reality: How rich countries and pharmaceutical corporations are breaking their vaccine promises” is available here: https://peoplesvaccine.org/g20/

G20 countries represent 62% of the world’s population, but have administered 82% of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines – data from Airfinity.

Only 3.1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

12 members of the G20 support the TRIPS waiver – including US, Russia, China, India, France, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and Mexico – and together they account for 82% of the total G20 population. Source of data: Our World in Data.

The UK and Germany have fully vaccinated 66% of their combined total population, compared to just 22% of the combined population of India and South Africa. Source: Our World in Data.