Vaccine inequality: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure

THE mass COVID-19 vaccination is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel for most countries after having to face and be in a war against the coronavirus, which has changed the world.

According to data by, 52 countries had begun to vaccinate their people as of Jan 22, while 142 others had not kickstarted their mass vaccination programmes.

Of the 53 million doses of coronavirus vaccines administered so far, over 22 million doses have been administered in Asia, 17 million in North America, 13 million in Europe, 330,000 in Central and South American countries and 7,000 in Africa.

However, not every country is able to see the light as inequalities in vaccine efficacy and distribution imply that most countries will not be able to achieve herd immunity levels.

The sad truth is many vaccine products have started to show limited signs of being able to reach most of the world’s population, particularly poorer and low-income countries, due to supplies remaining in the hands of wealthier Governments.

A study by the Economic Intelligence Unit revealed that 84 poorer countries may not have widespread access to vaccination until 2024.

According to a report by the Duke Global Health Innovation Centre, as of mid-January, more than seven billion vaccine doses had been purchased globally. While high-income countries represent only 16% of the world’s population, they currently hold 60% of the vaccines for COVID-19 that have been purchased so far.

Furthermore, it was revealed that most other high-income countries have more than 100% coverage, and some can cover their populations several times over.

For instance, the UK and Canada have purchased enough vaccine to cover more than five times their population. Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia have acquired enough supplies to give their populations around four doses each.

“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference last week.

“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people have received a COVID-19 vaccine while in low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500.”

Furthermore, the reservation of coronavirus vaccines by high- and middle-income countries through bilateral agreements prevents equitable global access to vaccines.

For example, Pfizer aims to produce 1.3 billion doses of vaccine by the end of this year, and most of this amount will be allocated to the promised doses under bilateral agreements.

The lack of access to vaccines due to bilateral agreements led to the failure to provide vaccines to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility led by the WHO to ensure global equitable access to coronavirus vaccines.

“These bilateral arrangements run the risk of fanning the flames of vaccine inequity,” Ghebreyesus added. “Scarcity of supply is driving vaccine nationalism.”

Meanwhile, it was reported in February that about 128 million vaccine doses had been administered in the world, in which more than three-fourths of those vaccinations took place in 10 rich countries.

On the other hand, 2.5 billion people housed across 130 countries had not even received a single dose.

Last month, World Bank in its East Asia and Pacific economic update report warns that with current stocks and allocation of vaccines, industrial countries would achieve more than 80% population coverage by the end of this year, while developing countries will achieve only about 55% coverage.

The report also calls for international cooperation in the production and approval of vaccines as well as in allocation based on need, to help contain COVID-19.

“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” Ghebreyesus remarked.

What we can hope is that just like COVID-19 virus which knows no knows creed, colour and status, the same goes with the vaccine – where everyone is entitled to be vaccinated regardless of whether it’s a citizen of a rich or poor country. – April 18,2021



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