The Inequity of the COVID19 Vaccine Distribution: The rich countries hoard vaccines while the poor countries struggle to get them
Last week at Cedars-Sinai, we received an email asking its employees interested in getting the vaccine against COVID19. I was very excited about this since it means a lot of things at once. The development of safe mRNA vaccines in a short period shows how much technology has advanced and highlights the importance of working together as the companies that manufactured the vaccines were not in a race against each other but against the virus. On the other hand, getting a notification that I was soon going to get vaccinated against this virus that has changed our world was pure joy, that sadly faded away.
As I told my friends and family the excitement that I was having because I would be vaccinated soon, all they did was ask me, but when are we going to get the vaccination for us? For our healthcare workers, grandparents, and grandmothers? We have heard in the USA with optimism how the government has secured millions of doses for its people, and it only makes sense that a government wants to put their citizens first but, at what cost? Where does the solidarity with other nations reside? These questions made me dig deeper into an issue that gets shadow by the hype of us getting vaccinated.
The People Vaccine Alliance, an international watchdog that includes Amnesty International, has warned that some countries have bought enough COVID vaccine to immunize their populations more than once. It highlights Canada as the top country on this matter that has reported over 400.000 cases of COVID19 has secured enough vaccinations to immunize its population at least five times. In contrast, poorer countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people. The Alliance data also showed that the deals that have been done between the governments and the eight leading vaccine candidates’ risk of leaving behind middle-low and low-income countries, as rich nations hoard on vaccine deals.1
A clear example of the disparity between the rich and the poor has been the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines’ inequitable deals, which have shown on their preliminary data to have the highest efficacy rate. Due to their promising results, the vaccine lots have been bought in a staggering 96% for Pfizer and 100% for Moderna by rich nations. With those impressive figures, the gap between the have and the have nots will stretch even further. The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, warned during a press conference “Every government rightly wants to do everything to protect its people, but there is now a real risk that the poorest and most vulnerable will be trampled in the stampede for vaccines”.2
Nonetheless, international efforts have been made to achieve global vaccination, such as COVAX. This compact, composed of 189 countries, amongst which the USA and Russia resonate for their absence, has high and middle-income countries committing to provide funding to ensure access to vaccination and equitably manufacturing them. In contrast, poorer countries have signed to secure vaccines for their population. This effort will also be backed up by agencies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.3 Efforts by the Oxford/Aztreneca are also of great importance to allow developing nations to get the vaccine, as they have pledged to five more than half of its doses to developing nations. Unfortunately, this would only reach 18% of the world’s population.4
I concur with Melinda Gates’s denomination of this phenomenon as vaccine nationalism, with the populist premise of “our citizens first,” that suffice its purpose of improving the polls for political gains. However, these actions go against one of the most powerful lessons this pandemic has taught us, the sense of community and working towards the benefit of all.
I firmly believe that vaccine allocation for a health crisis like this should prioritize global immunization for healthcare workers and elderly patients, rather than prioritizing country of residence or origin. It is not acceptable to have an effective vaccine, not reaching healthcare providers on the frontlines of developing countries fighting this virus without this indispensable weapon. In contrast, rich countries rely on an excess of vaccines and immunize low-risk citizens first.
This pandemic has shown us how fragile humanity. Now more than ever, the rich countries and their economic capacity must set an example of global leadership and outline a sensible policy that focuses on a global perspective rather than an exclusive, nationalistic one because this crisis won’t be over until everyone gets vaccinated.
- International. A and https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/12/campaigners-warn-that-9-out-of-10-people-in-poor-countries-are-set-to-miss-out-on-covid-19-vaccine-next-year/. 2021.
- https://abcnews.go.com/Health/rich-countries-hoarding-vaccine-report/story?id=74623521 A.
- https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/13/world/coronavirus-vaccine-developing-world-intl/index.html C.
- https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55229894 B.
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