Regarding inequality, the Greek philosopher Plutarch once stated, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
COVID-19 vaccines have become more accessible worldwide, which is significant in reducing the number of cases and deaths. Vaccines have contributed to global immunity.
However, in spite of the efforts to address vaccine access globally – including COVAX, which advocates boosting the development and delivery of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries – vital discrepancies remain between low-, middle- and high-income countries.
This jeopardy is critical; it can potentially ravage our global recovery from the abiding coronavirus.
Six months ago, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for treating people infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The virus infiltrates our bodies through the eyes, mouth or nose and advances to the lungs, causing severe ailment while replicating itself among the cells.
Vaccines such as Pfizer's, Moderna's and Janssen's are messenger RNA vaccines that deliver information to our cells to produce a protein that triggers an immune response. This protects us from the hazardous effects of the coronavirus.
A vital benefit of these vaccines is that they are productive and straightforward to manufacture.
Since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, data from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center and Scale Speedometer indicates that higher-income countries have purchased more than half of all global doses, thus creating a disproportion of vaccine distribution among low-, middle- and high-income countries.
It is estimated that there will not be enough vaccines to cover the entire world population until 2023. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, without the redistribution of vaccines acquired by high-income countries or increased vaccine production, more than four in 10 adults in the world will not be vaccinated.
High-income countries have obtained more than half of all vaccines to cover 245% of their adult population.
This means that low- and middle-income countries, representing 81% of the adult population, have received only 33% of the remaining vaccine doses and can cover only 33% of their adult population.
“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global redistribution of vaccines,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference. “On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people have received a COVID-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it's one in more than 500.”
Less than half of the adult population (49%) in low- and middle-income countries will be able to get vaccinated, even with COVAX doses.
This significant incongruity can be addressed principally by the redistribution of excess doses, as several high-income countries have stated they would. Although there are enough vaccines to cover more than 80% of the global population, significant inequities in vaccine distribution will continue without the redistribution of vaccines.
High-income countries, including France, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, have said they will provide their excess doses to other countries. However, plans by some countries and companies to make such bilateral vaccine donations will only increase vaccine inequity and drive vaccine nationalism.
According to WHO's Dr. Ghebreyesus, a “me-first” approach would be a defeat, as it would incite hoarding and a prolonged pandemic.
Vaccine inequity can devastate our chances of global immunity. Higher-income countries have obtained enough doses to vaccinate more than twice their adult populations, leaving middle- and lower-income countries with an insufficient number of doses. This disproportion is decreasing our rate of vaccination and worldwide recovery. Bilateral vaccine donations also could prompt hoarding.
If we do not compensate soon for this inequity of COVID-19 vaccines, we will surely be in further danger of a lengthened pandemic.
Edward Ng is a student at Maple Creek Middle School in Fort Wayne.