In a global pandemic, a critical challenge is ensuring widespread access to vaccines to achieve needed levels of population immunity. With the first vaccine rollout in early 2021, 15 COVID-19 vaccines are currently in use worldwide, with Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech doses being the most prevalent. By August 2021, of the 5.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered globally, 80 per cent had gone to high- or upper-middle-income countries. Only 0.2 per cent had been delivered to low-income countries. In high-income nations, one in four people had been vaccinated, a ratio that plummets to one in 500 in poorer countries.
Despite international efforts to address vaccine access, most notably, through the creation of COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), a global vaccine-sharing program, low- and middle-income countries are struggling to procure vaccines in a market cornered by rich nations, who are willing to pay premiums to hoard vaccines while slow-walking financial pledges that COVAX needed to purchase vaccines from manufacturers.
Vaccine inequity is not only a moral problem, but also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating. It affects the entire global community, fueling the rise of new, vaccine-resistant variants and dragging down the economies of rich and poor nations—and vaccinated and unvaccinated populations—alike. Data from the US National Bureau of Economic Research show that due to the interconnectedness of the global economy, COVID-19 outcomes for the entire global economy are highly dependent on poorer countries’ populations getting vaccinated. Richer economies will still bear 49 per cent of the global costs of the pandemic, even if their own populations are entirely inoculated.
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