December 2, 2022

Lara Adejoro

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday said an estimated 16 billion vaccine doses, worth $141 billion were supplied in 2021.

The supply is almost three times the 2019 market volume (5.8 billion) and nearly three-and-a-half times the 2019 market value ($ 38 billion). 

The WHO disclosed this on Wednesday in its first data released on the global vaccine market since COVID-19.

The global health body said the increase was primarily driven by COVID-19 vaccines, showing the incredible potential of how vaccine manufacturing can be scaled up in response to health needs.

It, however, said though manufacturing capacity worldwide has increased, it remains highly concentrated. 

“Ten manufacturers alone provide 70 per cent 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. In 2021, the African and Eastern Mediterranean regions were dependent on manufacturers headquartered elsewhere for 90 per cent of their procured vaccines. Entrenched intellectual property monopolies and limited technology transfer further limit the ability of building and using local manufacturing capacity.

“The health of markets is also concerning for several of the vaccines commonly needed for emergencies, such as against cholera, typhoid, smallpox/monkeypox, Ebola, and 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,” it said.

The WHO said despite progress in recent decades, global market vaccine dynamics are not fully conducive to the development, supply, and access to vital vaccines for public health.

It added that vaccines prioritised by WHO are not being developed or fully invested in due to limited profit potential.

“Lower-income countries have struggled to access critical vaccines – such as against COVID-19 in 2021 and cervical cancer vaccine – that are in demand by wealthier countries.

“Some regions depend almost entirely on others for vaccine supply,” the WHO said in a press statement made available to our correspondent.

WHO calls on governments, manufacturers, and partners to take ambitious action to guarantee equitable access to vaccines and improve responses to future pandemics.

“WHO’s Global Vaccine Market Report 2022, published today, 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.

“Limited vaccine supply and unequal distribution drive global disparities. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer has only been introduced in 41 per cent of low-income countries, even though they represent much of the disease burden, compared to 83 per cent of high-income countries.

“Affordability is also an obstacle to vaccine access. While 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,” it said.

“The right to health includes the right to vaccines,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus. “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.”

The report highlights the opportunities for more alignment of vaccine development, production, and distribution with a public health agenda, towards achieving the Immunisation Agenda 2030 (IA2030) goals and informing pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.

“COVID-19 proved that vaccines can be developed and distributed rapidly, with a process lasting an average of ten years but never less than four years, compressed to 11 months. The pandemic also exposed the long-standing need to recognise vaccines as a fundamental and cost-effective public good rather than a commodity.

“To drive ambitious action to deliver equitable access to vaccines, the report calls on governments to act on: clear immunization plans and more aggressive investment and stronger oversight of vaccine development, production and distribution; regional research and manufacturing hubs; and pre-agreeing rules for government collaboration in times of scarcity on issues such as vaccine distribution, intellectual property and the circulation of inputs and goods.

“Recommended actions for the industry include: focusing research efforts on WHO priority pathogens, ensuring transparency, facilitating technology transfer, and committing to specific equity-driven allocation measures. International organizations and partners should prioritize Immunization Agenda 2030 goals, support country-driven initiatives and push for the application of resolutions on market transparency,” it added.

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