We Need Vaccinations for All
On Wednesday, February 24th, Ghana received a shipment of 600,000 COVID-19
vaccines. This is the first of many shipments planned to go out as part of the global vaccines
sharing program known as COVAX. Already, COVAX is slated to give roughly two billion
doses of the vaccine out to low- and middle-income countries this year.
This is an encouraging start to an ambitious plan, but it does not go nearly far enough.
Shortly prior to the arrival of the Ghana shipment, 130 countries had still yet to administer even a single dose of the vaccine. And while COVAX shows a good first start, in its current incarnation, it can only promise free vaccines for 20 percent of each eligible nation’s population, not getting them anywhere near herd immunity. Nations on the receiving end of such shipments must still pay for the costs of delivery within the country, putting a further burden on already poor places.
To take steps toward the goal of global herd immunity without fully committing
is illogical. In order to have any hope of truly ending the COVID-19 pandemic, every country must fully vaccinate its people and not just the wealthiest group of nations. If the virus continues to spread through the developing world, many of the effects of the pandemic will persist, such as continued restrictions in travel and disrupted supply lines, holding back the economy significantly and making the world’s badly needed recovery that much harder
Even worse, the ongoing circulation of the virus increases the chances for more
dangerous variants like those which have already appeared. A new strain that is resistant to the current vaccines would undo all of the progress against the coronavirus that has been made so far, extending the pandemic even further into the future. This is why Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, warned that COVAX’s limited capability now is not a “matter of charity,” but rather one of epidemiology.
So far, the actions of wealthy nations toward the pandemic at large have been short-
sighted at best. Though the G-7 has committed $7.5 billion toward the COVAX program for
purchasing vaccines, high-income countries have refused to respect the contracts, instead
competing with COVAX for doses and lowering the overall supply. Further, COVAX needs an
estimated $23 billion more to procure enough doses to inoculate the people of the world, money it is still waiting on. This huge gap is what motivates comments like those of French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently called on America and Europe to send a full five percent of their vaccine supply to the developing world. Macron’s proposal is the very least of what is required to beat the pandemic. Rich countries need to reconvene and find the money to fully fund COVAX to the extent it requires. On the heels of passing a $1.9 trillion relief package, the US government would be hard-pressed to find an excuse not to spend a mere fraction of that amount to ensure the pandemic stays defeated. Combining forces with other wealthy governments would reduce the spending burden of each involved country even further.
Time is of the essence when it comes to vaccine administration as well, a challenge
that can be solved by expanding the production of the world’s best vaccines outside of the few Western nations in which it is currently housed. As a recent Foreign Policy essay explains,
numerous drug manufacturers already exist in low- and middle-income countries which have the capacity to produce the vaccines. Calling on them would help to circumvent issues with both manufacturing speed and supply chain difficulties. If Western firms share their patent with international drug suppliers, as well as clue them in on best practices with regards to production line set-up and material sourcing, factories around the world can be retrofitted to produce vital COVID vaccines.
The beginning of the COVAX campaign also signals the coming of what could be
considered the most tragic phase yet of the pandemic: while the wealthy nations of the world enjoy vaccine-granted herd immunity, the remaining poor majority will languish in mass COVID deaths as the virus persists there. Regard for human life arguably makes vaccine distribution in destitute places a higher imperative than in rich ones. In Yemen, a country of 30 million, there are just 710 ICU beds and 380 ventilators. The only factor that makes such a grim spectacle even more tragic is the knowledge that the suffering now borne mostly by the world’s poorest people will soon come back to haunt the affluent in the form of a more dangerous variant. Much of the suffering we face this year as a species is still avoidable. In the interest of fending the pandemic, powerful Western countries must act now to secure and administer vaccines for all.