The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the social and economic frameworks that we saw as a relative constant in our lives just over one year ago now. Even with the end in sight in the UK, the rest of the world is not quite as hopeful about their prospects moving forward. Hence, a global vaccine program is imperative to ensure the risk remains low enough which will allow for a return to the normality that we all desire. However, working within a global economy, fraught with greed, has ensured greater difficultly when it comes to equitable access to these valuable vaccines.
When the pandemic started, countries that were much more economically stable were able to purchases excess vaccine doses from a variety of companies in order to cover their entire population, with room for considerable disruption in the development process. However, poorer countries were not given the same luxury as they had to prioritise immediate pandemic-related issues whilst managing a collapsing economy. The slower pace of these low-income countries has led to them being put at the back of the queue, with some countries not beginning their vaccination program at all. This has led to huge disparities between countries based upon wealth which is a major problem if we want to end the global devastation that has been caused as a result of this virus. This is where Covax comes into play.
Covax is a program established by three international organisations, the WHO, GAVI and CEPI, in order to not only fund vaccine development and drive down prices, but also to facilitate distribution to less economically developed countries. The program has been successful in delivering millions of doses to a wide range of countries from Brazil to Nigeria. However, the program is still lacking the necessary support that is needed from these more developed countries which increases the risk of further catastrophic outbreaks like the one we see in India right now.
The crippling effects of India’s second wave has sent shock waves across the world as the harsh reality of the pandemic’s future sinks in. With over 400,000 cases and 4,000 deaths a day this case has illustrated the effects of this inequity in real time. India has only been able to fully vaccinate 2.1% of their population; 10 times less than the UK and 15 times less than the US. This has left over 1.3 billion people still vulnerable to infection which could result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions more deaths in the months to come. Although this problem may feel like millions of miles away, the knock-on implications of these surges in low-income countries could put the entire world at jeopardy once again. The UK has currently seen 202 cases of the Indian variant and 60 cases of the Brazilian variant. Although there is no evidence of major vaccine inefficacy amongst these particular variants, it just takes one to change that which shows just how volatile the situation is and emphasises the need for a more globalised approach to our vaccination efforts.
Oxford Dictionary defines a pandemic as when a disease is ‘prevalent over a whole country or the world’. Therefore, the pandemic is not over in the richer countries until it is over in the poorer countries as well. At this rate, scholars are predicting that mass worldwide immunisation will not be reached until 2024; meaning further economic damage, further Covid-19 related deaths and further risk worldwide.
We have the ability to change this by shifting to a significantly more cooperative effort in order to allow humanity a more rapid and irreversible return to normality. We can achieve this through further investment into programs such as Covax as well as encouraging the government to send any surplus doses to poor countries. This effort will benefit humanity as a whole and give hope to billions of people who cannot see the same light at the end of this tunnel.