Since the beginning of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the entire world had its eye on one thing and asked a serious question: when will this be over? For this to be over, there must be a treatment or a vaccine. An effective treatment that eases symptoms and leaves hospitals unstrained would be phenomenal. A vaccine taken by millions to stop the spread of COVID-19 would also end this global nightmare. We luckily made several vaccines from a few different countries that were approved globally. The question becomes, who gets the vaccine? Which nations should have access to it first? How is this access determined?
The problem is that rich countries have given a lot more vaccine shots to their citizens than less wealthy countries. Naturally, this is because vaccines are bought by richer countries that have more funds to buy them. Not to mention, most vaccines are produced in wealthier nations. However, this pandemic is abnormal. It disturbed the entire globe for an entire year, and new variants seem to emerge frequently from different countries. A prominent trait that the virus holds is that it is equitable. It does not choose the person it infects based on who they are or where they live. If it finds them, and it will infect them. This does not seem to be the mentality that we are going for as a globe in administering vaccines. Sources claim that over 800 million doses were given. However, 48% of them were in wealthier countries that equate to 16% of the global population. This raises the concern of severe disparity between nations.
The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) was an initiative that was launched to assist in disturbing vaccines globally. Less wealthy countries that need vaccines would be able to receive them through COVAX with the pledge that wealthier nations will share doses with them. This is needed because it would ensure that the globe gets vaccinated at the same rate. To have global immunity, we need at least 70% of the world population to be vaccinated. This would be impossible to achieve without collaboration between nations to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines. In February, sources claimed that 130 countries in the globe did not even receive a single vaccine containing vial.
The issue is indeed very complicated. It is not as easy as donating vaccines, and then the story will be over. The logistics of producing vaccines are very complicated. It is naive to think that countries would be willing to give up their share of the vaccines in the middle of the pandemic. However, the reality is that the pandemic will not be over until the majority of the globe is vaccinated. There were arguments in the past few weeks about halting intellectual property rights to the vaccines. Some argue that this is not the time to abide by patent laws strictly. The idea is to share technologies about vaccines worldwide to allow more entities to produce them. This theoretically could increase the production of vaccines but would require patent laws not to be enforced, along with actively sharing knowledge about how to make the vaccines. Others argue that pausing patents would not be of great help because there are challenges with having facilities that can create the vaccines worldwide. There is also the argument that innovation may be affected if patents are blocked. A lot of it is driven by private investments that are often risky and have low success rates due to the difficulty of making pharmaceuticals reach markets and consumers.
If there is a time in our lives for the entire world to unite and fight a common enemy, then it would be now. The pandemic is unique because it does not take a political stance. It does not have an agenda. It is not looking for votes or is concerned with power dynamics. It has taken millions of lives and will not hesitate to take more if it is not effectively stopped. Stopping it takes collective efforts from all nations. The reality is even if a particular country is fully vaccinated, the chances of being covid free are not guaranteed if there are other countries and entire populations not vaccinated. The world is now a tiny village, and new variants are always emerging.
Although efforts and discussions are appreciated, it is crucial to increase the speed of making decisions that yield tangible solutions. It is understandable that some decisions take time and may cause long-term effects on industries. However, the issue at stake is the lives of billions of humans. Is it ethically acceptable to have entire populations vaccinated (including low-risk individuals), while other countries still await vaccines for healthcare frontline workers? Human nature may dictate that we must “care for our own” first. However, this is a genuine concern in this case. Even when looking at the pandemic from a purely economic perspective, it only makes sense for the entire globe to be vaccinated. It is probably doubtful to be able to isolate economies in 2021 completely. We are an interconnected web, and we rely on each other. The end goal is to have the majority of the globe vaccinated and put an end to this pandemic.
While hopes are high to see an end to this pandemic soon, many lessons can be learned from this experience that can be implemented in the future. It could be worthwhile to explore laws and funding options about treatments and vaccines in extraordinary situations. When dealing with matters of life and death, economics and politics should be paused for a certain period to stop human disasters from happening. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and there is much uncertainty about how it will end and how many lives it has yet to take. The least we can do is explore ways to ensure that we are prepared to deal with circumstances like this one if they occur again. Prepared means looking at the issue with a lens of compassion and equity, along with putting human lives first.