Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley unite to stop rich nations hoarding COVID vaccines

It's estimated 200 million vaccine doses could be past their use-by date by early next year.
It's estimated 200 million vaccine doses could be past their use-by date by early next year. Photo credit: Getty Images

Former New Zealand Prime Ministers Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley have united to try and stop rich nations hoarding COVID vaccines.

The pair, who led Aotearoa for over a decade between them, have written a joint letter to Italian PM Mario Draghi alongside another 160 global leaders.

In it, the leaders urge him to use his role as chair of the G20 summit this weekend to back a plan to send excess vaccines to 92 nations struggling to get vaccinations programmes started.

Other signatories include Nelson Mandela’s widow Graça Machel, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Ireland’s ex-Taoiseach John Bruton and  former UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.

They want the G20 to agree a month-by-month plan and timetable to release the growing stockpile - projected to be around 600 million surplus vaccines - by December.

The meeting of the world's richest countries is "an opportunity to address this inequitable distribution", the letter says.

If a detailed plan isn't developed quickly it's likely 100 million vaccine doses will pass their use-by date by the end of this year, and it could exceed 200 million doses by the end of January 2022.

"It would be unethical for all these vaccines to be wasted when globally, there are 10,000 COVID-19 deaths every day, many of which could have been averted," the letter states.

To reach the 60 to 70 percent vaccination levels of high-income countries, the target set by the director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) by June next year, 5 billion more vaccines are needed rapidly, including 1.6 billion additional vaccines in Africa.

"Achieving this goal is within the world's reach, should high-income countries decide to share their surplus doses immediately," the letter continued.

"These doses would help Africa and low-income countries achieve the currently unattainable WHO vaccination targets of 40 percent by the end of the year, or very soon thereafter."

That call has been backed by Save the Children New Zealand, with the organisation's advocacy and research director Jacqui Southey saying it's never been so important to ensure everyone, everywhere has access to the vaccine.

"We know many parts of the Pacific are still struggling to access vaccines and, with the cyclone season about to begin, every effort needs to be made to prevent further impacts on livelihoods already ravaged due to the pandemic," she said.

"It is critical that vaccine doses are made available to every country across the Pacific." 

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