The heightened unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world is alarming as it will prolong the pandemic, with a large population in underdeveloped regions having no access to them.
Health officials and experts have reached the consensus that a world without COVID-19 isn’t possible until everyone is inoculated, calling on developed countries to take action to hasten their donation plans.
With most vaccines delivered to middle- and high-income countries, millions have been left vulnerable. Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO, said the coronavirus crisis could “easily drag on deep into 2022.”
More than 6.4 billion doses of vaccine have been administered, WHO says. Middle- and high-income countries have so far used three-fourths of all doses produced.
At least 50 percent of the population of many high-income countries have received their first shot while in low-income countries, that figure is 2 percent, according to Oxford University data.
The consequences of vaccine disparity are far-reaching as non-inoculated people face higher risks of severe infection or even death.
The global reach of COVID-19 won’t be stopped if a large number of regions are still unable to contain the virus. In the meantime, more variants will emerge, posing a severe challenge to medical treatment.
The world economy and international travel will also suffer tremendously as the slow rollout of vaccination plans drags the pace of production and trade.
In the meantime, vaccine inequality is further aggravating the social divide: The rich are protected while the poor are left vulnerable. The world’s hard-fought progress on human development and advancing human rights will also suffer a heavy blow.
The underlying reasons for the current vaccine disparity are insufficient donations from high-income countries, and poor medical resources and health infrastructure in the recipient countries.
To cope with the slow delivery of vaccines, many have called on developed countries to step up their donation drive before rushing to give booster shots to their own populations.
Some countries pledged to donate vaccines but haven’t made good on their promises. They have been urged to take concrete action to make sure recipient countries get vaccines before it’s too late.
As some officials from COVAX, a program backed by the World Health Organization to ensure low-income countries aren't left behind in the anti-virus fight, say many vaccine donations have come in small quantities and often close to expiry. High-income countries should also take into consideration the quantity and quality of the vaccine donation packages.
The poor health infrastructure in low-income countries affects the delivery of medical supplies as well as the vaccination process. Developed countries and international organizations need to also donate resources to turn vaccines into actual vaccination, so that efforts are needed to train personnel, and infrastructure to transport and store the doses. Helping these countries build medical facilities and capacity for inoculation remains a daunting task.
Many suspect COVAX has failed on its promise because many doses are delivered to high-income countries through bilateral and multilateral agreements under the scheme. To compensate the under-delivery of COVAX, the world is still figuring out ways to increase vaccine supplies so that they can reach the global target of inoculating 70 percent of the world population by mid-2022, a seemingly challenging benchmark once set by the WHO.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for $8 billion to ensure the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations worldwide. The IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization have also set up a joint vaccine taskforce to tackle the problem.
"With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe," the WHO COVAX website said.
Vaccine disparity not only endangers the vulnerable in low-income countries, but all people in the global community. As Guterres said, vaccine inequality is the best ally of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hastening the vaccine rollout serves everyone’s interest and the sustainable development of the world, which requires a coordinated approach that shall be pioneered by developed countries.