Rich countries have secured enough coronavirus vaccines to protect their populations nearly three times over by the end of 2021, Amnesty International and other groups said on Wednesday, possibly depriving billions of people in poorer areas.
Britain approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine this month, raising hopes that the tide could soon turn against a virus that has killed nearly 1.5 million globally, hammered the world economy and upended normal life.
Amnesty and other organisations including Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now and Oxfam, urged governments and the pharmaceutical industry to take action to ensure intellectual property of vaccines is shared widely.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also called on governments repeatedly this year to make a vaccine protecting against COVID-19 a "public good".
The WHO has backed a global vaccine programme scheme known as COVAX, which seeks to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines and 189 countries have joined. But some countries such as the United States have not signed up, having secured bilateral deals.
COVAX hopes to deliver some 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 but that would still only represent about 20 percent of the populations of countries that are part of the mechanism.
"Nearly 70 poor countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people against COVID-19 next year unless urgent action is taken," Amnesty International said, based on recent calculations.
"Updated data shows that rich nations representing just 14 percent of the world's population have bought up 53 percent of all the most promising vaccines so far," it said.
Amnesty said Canada was the country that had bought the most shots when considering the size of its population with enough doses to vaccinate every Canadian five times.
The organisation urged support for a proposal made by South Africa and India to the World Trade Organisation Council to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.