First it was my mum who got infected. But while I was by her side, nursing her, I got a phone call to say that my daughter Valerie was also sick. My husband was too. They were both just saying, "We can’t breathe, we can’t breathe". 

They needed a bed in the intensive care unit. They needed oxygen. But we live in Zimbabwe. And there was nothing available.  

Meanwhile, the eyes of the world were fixed thousands of miles away on the UK as a 90-year-old grandma, Margaret Keenan, became the first person in the world to receive a Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials. It was a moment of hope for so many.  

The National Wales: Lois Chingandu, the Director of External Relations at Frontline AIDS in ZimbabweLois Chingandu, the Director of External Relations at Frontline AIDS in Zimbabwe

But, at the time, those of us living in Zimbabwe – and in other low income countries around the world – feared that our futures and fates would be very, very different to those who would soon be getting the vaccine across the UK: our own lifesaving injections could yet be years away. Sadly, our fears have become our reality. 

One year on from Margaret receiving her first jab, fewer than 3% of people in low income countries are fully vaccinated. New analysis published this week by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, estimates that the same number of people in UK have had boosters than are fully vaccinated in all of world’s poorest countries put together.

READ MORE: Charities call on Mark Drakeford to speak out on vaccines for developing world

The problem is one of corporate greed and vaccine nationalism. In the beginning, rich countries pounced to hoover up vaccine supply with such gluttonous gusto some governments ended up with enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations three times over or more.  

Developing countries were left to rely on COVAX, the scheme set up to supposedly ensure equitable global access to vaccines. But even now, the most optimistic forecasts predict COVAX will fail to reach its already inadequate target of protecting 23 percent of people in developing countries by the end of the year.  

And so, it got worse. Covid’s stranglehold grip increased on the world, with low income countries’ already fragile and limited public health systems completely overwhelmed. During the summer in Uganda, a country already facing a shortage of health care workers, more than fifty doctors and nurses died in the space of just two weeks. Those left working on the front line were themselves scared, traumatised and inadequately protected.  

While this was unfolding, the bosses of the big pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccines sat back, watched and counted their profits. They refused to share their lifesaving vaccine recipes and know-how with the rest of the world, blocking an urgently needed scale up in vaccine production resulting in a deadly global vaccine shortage.   

READ MORE: 'Morally reprehensible': Plaid MS slams vaccine 'hoarding' by rich countries

Meanwhile, the governments of India and South Africa, supported by over 100 developing countries, took their case to the World Trade Organisation, to try and force big pharma to share their vaccine science and tech. Gradually, other governments, included the US, backed them. Others are slowly putting themselves on the right side of history too. 

The National Wales: 90-year-old Margaret from Northern Ireland was the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid vaccine, administered in Coventry. Photo: PA90-year-old Margaret from Northern Ireland was the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid vaccine, administered in Coventry. Photo: PA

But, to succeed, the coalition needs the handful of rich countries – including the UK – who are blocking the proposal and protecting the status quo and pharma monopolies, to change their minds.  

Of course, the UK Prime Minister points to the vaccine doses the UK is donating as an example of its altruism: but these acts of charity fall far short of what’s needed and even the promised doses simply aren’t being delivered. Charity alone won’t overcome coronavirus.   

There are qualified manufacturers around the world who, with the necessary knowledge and technology transfer, could produce the billions of additional doses of safe and effective vaccines needed to fight the pandemic.  

This corporate secrecy and the ongoing horror of the global pandemic may now all seem very far away from life in Wales, but our futures are interlinked. The ripple effect of the UK government opting to side with Big Pharma could ultimately prove deadly in Wales, as it’s already proving in poor countries like mine, despite the travel bans rich countries are currently slapping on us. 

The emergence of the Omicron variant is worrying, but entirely predictable. Epidemiologists have been clear: if Covid is allowed to continue running rampant, we face a ticking time bomb of further potential mutations that could render existing vaccines ineffective.  

It’s a threat my friends at Oxfam Cymru tell me the Senedd is alive to. Encouragingly, last month, members of the Senedd overwhelmingly supported a motion laid by Plaid Cymru, calling on the Prime Minister to back plans to temporarily waive intellectual property rules and insist that vaccine know-how and technology is shared so that global vaccine production can be ramped up.  

READ MORE: Wales can't help poorer nations by sharing Covid vaccines says Drakeford

But while some in Wales are standing on the right side of history, the UK government is not. Now is the time for First Minister Mark Drakeford to personally urge Boris Johnson to support calls for a People’s Vaccine and end his damaging opposition to international plans which could temporarily lift the intellectual property rules protecting Big Pharma and see the rest of the world receive the same protection and hope Margaret Keenan did. 

Until that happens, nobody will truly be safe. Breathing seems like a basic human right, but it isn’t when you’re poor and you have Covid. I will continue to fight for access to vaccines until my own last breath. For all of our sakes, I hope that Mark Drakeford takes a deep breath of his own, and joins this fight.  

Lois Chingandu is the Director of External Relations at Frontline AIDS in Zimbabwe.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.