Why global vaccine distribution is in everyone’s best interest
The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations has recently increased around the globe, giving hope to millions of people desperate for relief after this challenging period. Rapid distribution and equitable access to vaccines is essential. It’s not only ‘morally responsible’, but also economically beneficial for the rest of the world. International collaboration is crucial to fight the long-term effects of the pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year, there have been over 100 million cases worldwide and almost 3 million deaths. Non-medical impact can be seen in various aspects of life including income, employment, access to education and health care, and mental health. Even in some of the wealthiest countries in the world, the pandemic has devasted millions. Many families and businesses are behind on rent or facing eviction, unemployment rates are climbing, the lines at food banks are longer than they have ever been before, and global mental health is a crisis of its own.
For middle and low-income countries, the challenges are somewhat similar, with the exception that they have far fewer resources, pushing their citizens into poverty and hunger. A new study conducted by UC Berkeley and the World Bank surveyed people across 16 low-income countries, suggesting that 70% of households suffered a decrease in income, and 45% were forced to miss or reduce meals. Only 11% were able to access health care, and in some communities, this dropped to 0%. Measures of economic activity like business income suggest that in some areas it shrunk by half. 2020 reversed years of progress in addressing global poverty, throwing many poorer communities back into food insecurity and extremely low incomes.
Within just a week of arriving to Juba, South Sudan last month, I saw government restrictions significantly increase. The number of cases of COVID-19 jumped, resulting in a ban on all social gatherings, closure of schools, universities, and businesses not deemed essential, and cutting the number of passengers on public transportation by half. Without financial support from national governments or international institutions, vulnerable people desperate to feed their families face no choice but to ignore social distancing measures.
The approval of COVID-19 vaccines seemed like a game-changer after so many months of restrictions, but without rapid distribution, there is a long journey ahead. The longer it takes to vaccinate the population, the greater chance of variants developing, strengthening the need for rapid global vaccine rollout. For countries that have already started vaccinating their citizens, there is hope, however there is a fear that many countries, especially lower-income nations, won’t have access to vaccines until as late as 2024. Any delays to worldwide vaccine access will only prolong the pandemic.
International collaboration is essential for rapid and equitable distribution. Even when safe and well-developed vaccines are available, local distributions are often prioritized over a globally coordinated approach. As of today, about 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccine doses.
Aside from any moral or humanitarian arguments to provide vaccine access to all countries, the global economic impact is also significant. A new study by the RAND corporation shows that it is less costly for high-income countries to distribute vaccines to lower-income countries than to focus only on local distribution. For every $1 spent on supplying vaccines to low-income countries, high-income countries could receive $5 in return due to speedier economic recovery, as global economies are linked through trade, production, investments, and tourism. The bottom line is that distributing vaccines is not only responsible morally, but also economically.
Some efforts already exist to ensure a more equitable approach to vaccine allocation between countries. For example, G7 country leaders have committed 7.5 billion USD to the WHO’s COVAX initiative to finance global equitable access to tests, treatments, and vaccines in 2021. This is an important start, but it will not be enough. From both economic and health perspectives, none of us will be out of the pandemic until we all are. With this in mind, IsraAID is working closely with its teams around the globe to help the most vulnerable communities as they build back better, past the pandemic, and toward a more resilient future. But in order for this work to really take off, collaboration and equity has to be a central pillar of vaccination efforts.
Shir Hefer holds a BA in Economics and Psychology and an MSc in Development Economics. Shir has worked as a financial analyst in the private sector and as a research assistant at a university. Today, Shir is a Finance Officer for IsraAID’s Africa region.