The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday released a report that shows that inequitable distribution is not unique to COVID-19 vaccines, with poorer countries consistently struggling to access vaccines that are in-demand by wealthier countries.
WHO’s Global Vaccine Market Report 2022, published today, revealed that limited vaccine supply and unequal distribution drive global disparities.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer has only been introduced in 41% of low-income countries, even though they represent much of the disease burden, compared to 83% of high-income countries, the global health agency said in a statement on Wednesday.
According to WHO, affordability is also an obstacle to vaccine access. Although prices tend to be tiered by income, price disparities see “middle-income countries paying as much – or even more – than wealthier ones for several vaccine products.”
“The right to health includes the right to vaccines. And yet this new report shows that free-market dynamics are depriving some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people of that right. WHO is calling for much-needed changes to the global vaccine market to save lives, prevent disease and prepare for future crises,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General in a statement.
Approximately 16 billion vaccine doses, worth US$ 141 billion, were supplied in 2021, almost three times the 2019 market volume (5.8 billion) and nearly three-and-a-half times the 2019 market value (US$ 38 billion). The increase was primarily driven by COVID-19 vaccines, as per WHO data.
“Although manufacturing capacity worldwide has increased, it remains highly concentrated. Ten manufacturers alone provide 70 percent of vaccine doses (excluding COVID-19). Several of the top 20 most widely used vaccines (such as PCV, HPV, measles and rubella-containing vaccines) each currently rely mainly on two suppliers. This concentrated manufacturing base leads to risk of shortages as well as regional supply insecurity,” the health agency stated on Wednesday.
Last year, the African and Eastern Mediterranean regions were dependent on manufacturers headquartered elsewhere for 90 percent of their procured vaccines. Entrenched intellectual property monopolies and limited technology transfer further limit the ability to build and using local manufacturing capacity, the health agency stated.
The health of markets is also concerning for several of the vaccines commonly needed for emergencies, such as against cholera, typhoid, smallpox/monkeypox, Ebola, meningococcal disease, where demand surges with outbreaks and is hence less predictable. The continued limited investment in these vaccines could be devastating for people’s lives.
The report highlights the opportunities for more alignment of vaccine development, production and distribution with a public health agenda, towards achieving the Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030) goals and informing pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.