EU to throw away 55 million Covid vaccines by end of month

EU to throw away 55 million Covid vaccines by end of month
Just 11% of people living in African countries have been vaccinated. Credit: WHO Africa

The European Union will reportedly throw away 55 million coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of February – 25 million more than the bloc  has donated to Africa so far in 2022, the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA) claims.

The coalition of organisations and activists united for vaccine equality argued that aside from lifting patent laws to allow Africa to produce its own vaccines, the EU has also hoarded doses to sell to richer nations. Many of these are due to expire at the end of the month.

"The EU claims it is promoting a ‘prosperous partnership of equals’ with the African Union, yet it is throwing more vaccine doses in the trash than they are donating to us while continuing to block a waiver on vaccine patents which would enable us to produce our own vaccines," said Sani Baba Mohammed, Public Services' International Regional Secretary for Africa and Arab countries.

Just 8% of the EU's vaccine exports in 2022 have been to Africa. Across the continent, only 11% of people have received their first two Covid-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, almost 50% of the total population in EU/EEA countries has received a booster dose.

EU 'blocking African production autonomy'

African and European leaders will convene at the AU-EU Summit on Thursday and Friday. Leaked drafts of the summit declaration show a divide between the two unions, with the AU (African Union) pushing for a patent waiver to be on the table.

The PVA argues that the EU has blocked proposals to temporarily lift intellectual property in order that Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments can be produced in Africa.

France supported this waiver last summer but has since "done little to challenge the EU's stance on this." The organisations assert that EU support for a WHO technology transfer hub in South Africa still won't give African countries production autonomy.

Credit: WHO Africa

"If there truly is a common agenda between the Unions, then the EU would stop putting the interests of pharmaceutical companies, who have reaped billions from the pandemic, ahead of African lives," Anna Marriott, Health Policy Manager at Oxfam (a PVA member) said.

The PVA points out that the "vaccines were publicly funded, and the recipes should be shared with the world to allow all qualified producers to make these vital shots," Marriott said.

EU response

A European Commission spokesperson was unable to confirm to The Brussels Times that 55 million vaccines will be discarded, adding that Member States are not obliged to share data about wasted doses.

"While we are working with Member States to manage the purchase and delivery of the vaccines, they plan the national vaccination process and donations, taking into account the foreseen expiration date of the vaccines."

He stressed that the Commission recognises the need to avoid vaccine wastage and that it is working with EU countries to minimise the number of discarded doses and facilitate their exchange.

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Another spokesperson said that the EU is discussing a trade policy that could lead to a temporary lifting of vaccine property rights.

She added that the Commission has indicated an openness to allow WTO members to authorise the manufacture and export of Covid-19 pharmaceutical products in a fast and simplified manner. This could be done without the consent of the patent owner and without countries with insufficient manufacturing capacity facing legal uncertainty when importing these.

However, she said the full lifting of intellectual property rights "would not help reach the objective of the widest and timely distribution vaccines."

"On the contrary, we need measures that preserve the ongoing collaborations between pharmaceutical companies that yield record supplies of vaccines as well as incentives to innovate and invest in research on COVID-19 and its variants."

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