Southeast Asian Activists Criticize Rich Countries for Pre-ordering COVID-19 Vaccines in Excess

Jeoffrey Maitem, Marielle Lucenio and Ronna Nirmala
Manila and Jakarta
2021-06-10
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Southeast Asian Activists Criticize Rich Countries for Pre-ordering COVID-19 Vaccines in Excess Erlinda Roses (left) and her husband Rodolfo Roses, both 72, receive a dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine inside their home in Manila, June 9, 2021.
[Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Activists in Southeast Asia criticized rich nations Thursday for pre-ordering and stockpiling COVID-19 vaccines in excess of their populations’ needs, saying this caused a shortfall in supply for the developing world.

Shortages of jabs and a surge in coronavirus cases have led to rising deaths and prompted fresh lockdowns and movement restrictions, which are pushing people deeper into poverty, the People’s Vaccine Alliance Asia said.

Developed countries used their economic and political might to “pre-order and hoard vaccine stocks, irrationally without regard for the rest of the humanity,” the alliance’s representatives told an online media forum organized by Oxfam in Asia, Oxfam Pilipinas and Thai NGO Apcaso on Thursday.

“In the face of critical supply shortages, developing countries across the world are being left dangerously farther behind while the virus continues to mutate and makes catching up even harder.”

Citing data, the alliance pointed to how the European Union had secured 4.6 billion doses – 10 times the regional bloc’s population of 450 million.

And while the United States ordered 3.2 billion doses – also 10 times America’s population of 330 million – at least the superpower decided to share 80 million of its doses globally by the end of June, the alliance’s Asia wing said.

In addition, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that Washington would purchase and donate 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses to 92 low- and lower middle-income countries, as well as member states of the African Union.

According to Biden’s plan, the 500 million doses are expected to be delivered by June of next year, with 200 million of the total slated for delivery by the end of 2021.

“President Biden has been clear that borders cannot keep this pandemic at bay and has vowed that our nation will be the arsenal of vaccines,” the White House said in a statement.

“President Biden will also call on the world’s democracies to do their parts in contributing to the global supply of safe and effective vaccines.”

‘Full vaccination in 57 years’

The American announcement came as the president arrived in Britain to attend the G-7 summit, where he was expected to urge his fellow leaders to follow Washington in vaccine sharing.

The powerful grouping of nations has been criticized, because many of its member governments refuse to waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines and have lagged in doing their share to help vaccinate poorer countries.

According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, G7 nations will have vaccinated everyone in their countries within months. By contrast, “on current trends, the poorest countries will only reach full vaccination in 57 years,” the alliance said.

For instance, the African continent accounts for under 1 percent of the more than 2.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered globally, the World Health Organization said in a statement Thursday.

In Southeast Asia, the People’s Vaccine Alliance Asia said only 5.4 percent of the Philippines’ total population had received jabs so far compared with only 6 percent in Thailand; 10.7 in Malaysia; and 10.5 percent in Indonesia.

“We are … for a fair and equitable global distribution of vaccines,” Mae Buenaventura, of the group Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, said at the forum.

“One that is based on the need of the country and its population and respective in the country’s economic status bound by human rights, international solidarity, and cooperation. Everyone on the planet should get safe, effective free vaccines.”

The unequal distribution of vaccines is a major roadblock in global vaccination efforts, Buenaventura said.

“We underscore the urgency that there is no time to lose.  Every day that passes [that] only a few people are vaccinated and targets [are] not reached … is a danger multiplied,” she said.

“We appeal to vaccine-producing countries to shift from their policy,” she said, referring to nations that have vaccines in excess of their needs and refuse to waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 jabs.

By the numbers

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines are the nations hardest hit by the pandemic. 

In Indonesia, daily infections have spiked to an average of 6,500 a day in the past week, from an average of 3,500 a day in mid-May. Daily cases have doubled in nine cities, mostly in heavily populated Central Java and West Java.

Wiku Adisasmito, spokesman of Indonesia’s COVID-19 Task Force, said hospitals there were nearly at capacity.

“We should not allow the situation to become critical and out of control. We urge all district chiefs and mayors to immediately improve the handling of COVID-19 in their respective jurisdictions,” Wiku said.

As of Thursday, the number of confirmed cases in Indonesia rose by nearly 9,000 to 1.88 million. The death toll rose to 52,373 after 211 fatalities were recorded overnight.

Across the Philippine archipelago of 105 million people, virus-related deaths so far have reached 22,312. And with more than 7,485 new infections recorded Thursday, the cumulative caseload rose to 1.2 million.

“While we’re seeing an increase in the number of infections in Visayas and Mindanao Islands, that’s also [because] the vaccines are not widely made available, or the distribution is not wide enough,” said Nemuel Fajutagana, a doctor with the Medical Action Group in the Philippines.

Elsewhere in the region, Malaysia is in the throes of a fourth wave after having curbed new infections for most of last year.

The country reported 5,671 new infections on Thursday, taking the total number of cases to more than 600,000. With 73 virus-related deaths in 24 hours, pandemic fatalities rose to 3,684.

Even in Thailand, the country that had been the most successful in limiting new COVID-19 infections – both in Asia and the world – new COVID-19 infections have risen more than six-fold, and related deaths have increased 12.5 times, since a third coronavirus wave began on April 1.

Thailand logged 2,310 new cases on Thursday, lifting the cumulative caseload to 187,538, while the virus-related death toll rose to 1,375, after  43 overnight deaths.

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