Vaccine for the Privileged: Coronavirus Vaccine Inequality May Prolong the Pandemic

The world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic back in 2020, bringing down travel, businesses, daily activities, and, most importantly, the global healthcare system in a matter of weeks. While everyone struggled to survive, the research and development community raced against time to work on a vaccine. This vaccine became the only real hope for a fighting chance against the pandemic. When the vaccine arrived in 2021, its distribution starkly ran along economic fault lines: a harsh light was cast on the long-standing disparity between developed and developing nations.

The unequal distribution of vaccines in the Global North and the Global South is not shocking for many. According to a Reuters tracker, Singapore has become the most fully vaccinated country in the world. However, the numbers in the Global South are nothing but grim. Most countries, including Haiti, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen, have less than a 1% vaccination rate. A United Nations meeting discussing ‘A vaccine for all’ convened in April of 2021. There, it was mentioned that ‘of the 832 million vaccine doses administered, 82 percent have gone to high- or upper‑middle-income countries, while only 0.2 percent have been sent to their low-income counterparts. In high‑income countries alone, 1 in 4 people have been vaccinated, a ratio that drops precipitously to 1 in 500 in poorer countries.’

This unequal vaccine distribution potentially undermines the push from some of the highly vaccinated nations to proceed with a third, “booster” shot dose. The World Health Organization has spoken out about the moral and ethical implications of this inequality. This unequal distribution is detrimental to the broader goal of addressing the pandemic on a global level. With the continued movement of people across nations, no one country can benefit from engaging in a ‘self—centered’ approach of getting its own population vaccinated while other nations are struggling to vaccinate even a handful of their denizens.

The WHO-backed Covax program aimed to deliver enough for 20 percent of the participating countries by the end of the year, reported Washington Post back in May 2021. The current distribution status predicts that they are surely falling behind the proposed timeline. If coronavirus keeps spreading and mutating, especially among the unvaccinated, it may soon reach a point where the impact of current vaccines may fail to help.

With each passing day, the WHO’s stand on booster shots is still changing. The WHO officials have not necessarily opposed providing additional doses to certain vulnerable populations who may not be completely protected with the standard doses. But, the organization continues to speak up on the need to help reach vaccine equality and fairness. Each country, as expected, should focus on ensuring the safety of its population through an effective domestic vaccine program. However, if the goal is to move past Covid-19, not simply mitigate its impact, a globally-minded effort is crucial. International institutions such as the WHO need to firmly assert the gravity of equitable vaccine distribution. Furthermore, more light needs to be shed on the dangers of excess vaccine stockpiling. Administration of the third dose in developed nations may potentially achieve far less in the global effort against Covid than distribution of the first two doses for developing nations in the vaccine waiting room.