Widening Inequalities & Suffering Vulnerable: The Urgent Need of Vaccine Equity

Since the vaccine for the COVID-19 was developed and rolled out for dosing, the United Nations and World Health Organisation have been working together to ensure equitable distribution of the COVID19 vaccine. But, as the wealthy nations are focusing on vaccine nationalism, the collaborative aim to vaccine equity, i.e., to vaccinate over 70% of the global population, i.e., 7.8 billion people by the mid of 2022, is slinking in uncertainty.

But, first, what is vaccine equity? Why is it important to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccines? And will a successful global vaccination help eradicate the coronavirus?

Defining Vaccine Equity

Simply said, facilitating vaccination facility to the world’s population regardless of their social stature, their nationalism but solely based on their vulnerability to the pandemic. To achieve the 70% vaccinated population by mid-2022 ambition set forth but the World Health Organisation, more equitable distribution of vaccines is vital.

Apart from the ethical argument of fair vaccine distribution, vaccine equitability is important for ensuring global public health. Lack of vaccine is leaving millions vulnerable to the deadly virus, and the un-vaccinated people are becoming the breeding ground for more lethal mutations of the virus to emerge and spread. Not just for the middle and low-income countries but for the entire world. As put by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “not rocket science, nor charity. It (vaccine equity) is a smart public health and in everyone’s best interest.”

According to research, 70 percent of the 7.8 billion global population will have access to vaccines by 2022. But, the majority of vaccines are reserved for wealthy countries, and those who produce vaccines are restricting exports in order to ensure their own citizens get vaccinated first, a practice called “vaccine nationalism.” In one example of this trend, some nations decide to offer booster vaccines to already vaccinated citizens instead of prioritizing doses for unvaccinated people in poorer countries.

The Un-equal Distribution of Vaccine

According to UNICEF, the average cost of a COVID-19 vaccine jab could fluctuate between $2 to $37. In contrast, the average cost of distribution of the vaccine per person is $3.70. Thus, though the vaccine price is not high, it could be a substantial financial burden for the low-income economies, where annual health expenditure is as low as $41.

Without immediate financial support from international organizations and governments, the healthcare budget of the low-income countries could increase by a staggering 57%, just to vaccine 70% of the population.

The Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity by WHO, Oxford University, and UNDP shows that where over 60.18 % population of high-income countries were vaccinated, only 3.07% of the low-income population have got the vaccine jabs. For example, as of September 15, the percentage of vaccinated people in the US is 65.2%, whereas, in the UK, an estimate of 70.92% of the population has been vaccinating.

The staggering difference becomes substantially noticeable when the figures are compared with the low-income countries like Venezuela and Papua New Guinea, where the vaccinated citizens percentage is 20.45% and 1.15%, respectively.

Another hurdle in the world’s biggest vaccination campaign is the poor organization and distribution of donated vaccines. Unfortunately, there are many countries that are struggling to manage logistics between thousands of municipalities and local authorities so that they can be ready to handle their doses before they expire. Therefore, we must ensure that a continuous, rolling distribution is carried out over time.

Will Golbal Vaccine Equity Eradicate Coronavirus?

Most likely not! According to a poll by Nature, an estimate of 90% of scientists believe that the SARS-CoV-2 virus will become an endemic virus. An epidemiologist, Michael Osterholm, from the University of Minnesota, says, “Eradicating this virus right now from the world is a lot like trying to plan the construction of a stepping-stone pathway to the Moon. It’s unrealistic.”

There have been numerous prepositions proposed for the ending of the pandemic, but most of the end stories believe in either mass vaccination or herd immunity. As countries have begun distributing COVID 19 vaccines, a fall in the number of infections is expected soon. As can be observed in many rich nations, which have vaccinated more than 50% of their population, life is gradually going back to normal. But, reduction of transmission is still a long way to go.

CORONAVIRUS: HERE TO STAY. Graphic showing some of the key factors that are likely to lead to SARS-CoV-2 becoming endemic.

Though the future of the SARS-CoV-2 is still hovering in uncertainty, greater vaccination coverage must be the way to go. An infectious disease researcher of Columbia University, Jeffrey Shaman, believes that in some of the middle, and lower-income countries, vaccinating even 55% of the entire population will be a tough task. He adds, “the virus will stick around if parts of the world don’t get vaccinated.”

The un-equitable distribution of vaccines is not a new concept. But, the cumulative efforts by the international bodies and government could help in meeting the vaccine needs of lower-income countries.

The silver lining, though, is that over 5.5 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered around the world as of September 15. However, many of the vaccines require two shots, so the number of individuals protected has been considerably lower.