Deaths from Covid-19 in Ireland would be 10 times higher and hospitalisations would be five times higher if there were no vaccines, a leading immunology expert has said.
Dr Annie Curtis, president of the Irish Society of Immunology, said vaccines have had a huge impact on the epidemiological situation in wealthy countries, but that developing countries have not yet seen that benefit.
“It is difficult to model but estimates would suggest that if we didn’t have vaccines in Ireland, we would have ten times higher deaths in this country. That would be 50,000 deaths. And five times higher hospitalisations,” she said.
“Vaccines have allowed us to keep our schools open and our health service operating to a certain degree.”
Dr Curtis said that to achieve vaccine-induced herd immunity worldwide, “we have to vaccinate the world, probably multiple times over”.
“The model that we have is broken. It has to be changed,”? she added.
Dr Curtis was speaking at an online conference on finding real solutions to vaccine inequity, organised by People’s Vaccines Alliance in Ireland.
The conference heard that only 15 out of 54 African countries had achieved a 10 per cent vaccination target. The average level of vaccine penetration in the developing world is about 2 per cent.
By comparison, some 92 per cent of Irish adults are fully vaccinated.
Prof Faith Osier, president of the international union of immunological societies, said the inequality gap between rich and poor countries is "just too wide".
She added that only 12 per cent of doses allocated to Covax, the initiative designed to help low and middle-income countries get fair access to Covid-19 vaccines, have been delivered by western pharmaceutical companies.
Douglas Hamilton, vice-chair of the Irish Society of Specialists in Public Health Medicine, said ensuring vaccine equity is the "right thing to do".
“We are not safe, unless the people in the poorest countries are safe. So why is that? Becase Covid outbreaks will continuously erupt in non-immunised populations, like fires that never quite go out, because cinders keep reigniting,”? he said.
"These outbreaks will, inevitably, continue to spread around the world, to Europe and Ireland, seeding new outbreaks here, wave after wave, unnecessarily prolonging the pandemic."
He added that the virus will also “continue to mutate”? if it is permitted to continue to transmit.
The organisers of the conference have called on the Government to encourage the EU to sign the TRIPS (Trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver.
Colm O'Gorman, chief executive of Amnesty International, said there is a need to save lives and prevent serious illness.
“It’s essential that all countries across the world have access to vaccines. Ireland’s human rights obligations here are clear,” he said.
“At the very, very least, states have an obligation to not obstruct the TRIPS waiver and right now, we know that the EU and other wealthy states, indeed Ireland, are obstructing TRIPS waiver negotiations,” he said.
“That is disgraceful. It is a huge moral failure. It must end.”