Vaccine equity in the global COVID-19 Pandemic challenges the world’s ability to combat COVID-19. Currently, 58.3% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Please note that this is just one dose, not the recommended two doses and booster. While this may seem like a large amount of the global population, these numbers are concentrated in mostly rich and western countries. This leaves other areas of the world, some with quite large concentrations of the global population without protection. Only 8.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
For example, the United States of America has 73.3% of its people vaccinated with at least one dose. In stark contrast, Nigeria only has a 4.7% total of people who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And, South Africa, the first place where the newest Omicron variant of the coronavirus was discovered has a vaccination rate of 31.6%. This is largely due to the lack of vaccine availability in these countries. Most of the vaccines have been sent to those who can pay for them. In fact, these countries have even donated some of the supply that they have bought to others that are in desperate need. Most of these countries were G7 countries, with the most advanced economies in the world. Because of their power, they can control where these cutting-edge vaccines are sent to. The United States passed legislation to send donations only after the country reached a vaccination target of its own.
“Research suggests that enough vaccines will be produced in 2021 to cover 70 per cent of the global population of 7.8 billion. However, most vaccines are being reserved for wealthy countries, while other vaccine-producing countries are restricting the export of doses so they can ensure that their own citizens get vaccinated first, an approach which has been dubbed ‘vaccine nationalism’ (Vaccine Equity, 2021).”
These decisions by world leaders have been criticized as this approach serves the richest countries of the world and neglects those with less money and resources. Not only are the action not equitable, but they weaken the global effort to combat COVID-19. As we have seen with the raging Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, many scientists and experts have stated that this variant occurred due to lack of vaccination within the country. The virus was allowed to mutate as it spread without the needed mitigation via vaccination of the population. This issue will continue to occur so long as vaccine equity is not a priority for the international powers of the G7.
This issue is even being brought to the table at COP27, a conference focused on international environmental issues. Egypt is hosting the COP27 and hopes to use its voice to advocate for its fellow developing countries and ensure they receive the supplies and vaccines they need to push the world towards a recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization has set a goal of a 50% vaccination rate by mid-2022. The main focus in the fight for vaccine equity is that it is not charity, it is what is best for public health and the state of the international economy. The pandemic has taken a large toll on both of these areas and equity would shorten the pandemic and reduce the effects of its aftermath.
An unequal distribution will also further the gap between rich and poor globally, making it even more difficult to secure human rights and setting back the progress made by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
COVAX is co-led by CEPI, Gavi, and WHO, alongside a key delivery partner: UNICEF. It was created in April 2020 to work on vaccine equity when vaccines became available. This program offers vaccines for at least 20% of a country’s population and delivers them as soon as they are available. The program still struggles as the countries who desperately need access to these vaccines may also not be prepared to receive them, the program provides resources and advice on how to be ready to receive shipment and distribution. These range from planning roadmaps for distribution, choosing target populations, and distribution requirements to keeping the vaccines usable during transit.
9.21 billion doses have been administered globally, and 29.17 million are now administered each day. These programs are very helpful in reaching the 70% goal, but more equity needs to occur before the world will be able to recover from this pandemic. There are many complex issues to vaccine availability but the answer should always benefit public health.
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COVAX. (n.d.). Retrieved from World Health Organization :https://www.who.int/initiatives/act-accelerator/covax
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Stein, F. (2021). Risky business: COVAX and the financialization of global vaccine equity. Globalization and Health. doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-021-00763-8
Vaccine Equity. (2021, September 19). Retrieved from UN News:https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1100192
Yohannes-Kassahun, B. (2021, December 31). Road to COP27: Why Africa cannot be complacent on energy, climate change.Retrieved from UN News: Africa Renewal:https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/january-2022/road-cop27%C2%A0why-africa%C2%A0cannot-be-complacent-energy-climate-change