Updated: Feb 5
By: Maria Mian
As the world welcomed 2022 with hope for better times, it added yet another year to the COVID-19 pandemic that has paralyzed the world in a state of uncertainty. Although numerous precautions and interventions, from lockdowns to social distancing, have been taken to stop the spread of the virus, such interventions have only been somewhat effective. Unfortunately, the virus continues to spread by mutating every few months, leading to a push for the next line of defense - vaccines. The official vaccine rollout began at the end of 2020 and early 2021 and continues as we speak. Although there were high hopes that vaccine distribution would bring a wave of normalcy back into the world, this prospect was quickly undertaken by the harsh reality of global distribution of health resources. Vaccine inequity is a critical global health issue that is often swept away from the international stage, leading to rich countries jabbing every citizen with multiple doses, while poor countries struggle to even test their citizens for the deadly virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered many harsh realities about us as global citizens. Although some issues are more alarming than others, they nonetheless have all shown the darker side of humankind. In a state of panic, it really is everyone for themselves - rich countries become arguably outright greedy when it comes to resource distribution, leaving countries in the developing world to fend for themselves.
The phrase we all love to use, “we are all in this together,” is in truth just a phrase that the global community uses to forge equality and equity. When we step into the reality of the situation, it is clear that there is a huge inequity in resource distribution, which is one of the leading reasons as to why the pandemic is being prolonged. From testing kits to vaccines, crucial equipment is not being distributed to the most vulnerable populations, leading to a constant cycle of disease transmission. The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health issue, with emphasis on global, indicating how the world has to work as an international community if we truly want to stop the spread of the virus and return to a somewhat state of normalcy, whatever that may be now.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the talk of developing a vaccine was always a hot topic that many believed would put a stop to the spread of the Coronavirus. By April 9th 2021, it was reported that more than 700 million COVID-19 vaccines had been administered globally (Kim, 2021). Although the number appears to bring promising results, a deeper look into the statistics revealed that 87% of vaccines went to high-income or upper middle-income countries while only 0.2% were distributed to low-income regions (Kim, 2021). This provides a small snapshot of the reality of vaccine distribution: higher-income countries are hoarding supplies in an effort to administer as many doses as possible to their citizens, while low-income countries that make up the most vulnerable populations, receive drops of the ocean of vaccine supply. Another report from the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization (SAGE) reported how, “high income countries have administered 69 times more doses per inhabitant than low-income countries'' (Burki, 2021). Although these statistics represent a brief overview of the realities regarding global vaccine inequity, it is clear that, “we are all actually not in this together”. The issue of vaccine inequity is one that cannot be ignored and must be acknowledged and solved if we, as a global community, want to control and bring to an end the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boosters are bad?!
I know what you’re thinking - the above subheading contradicts everything that was said in the article so far about the importance of vaccines. However, before we jump to any conclusions, let’s explain why booster shots are actually problematic. The Coronavirus, like other viruses, is able to mutate in human hosts leading to continuous disease transmission among vulnerable and protected individuals. If an increased number of individuals are left unprotected (i.e: unvaccinated), it gives the virus more opportunities to mutate and spread throughout the population, paralyzing the world in an increased cycle of disease transmission. World Health Organization’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained, “blanket booster programmes are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate,” (UN News, 2021). This issue of vaccine inequity is also said to be a key player in the development of the Omicron variant. Experts believe that the Omicron variant emerged from an HIV patient in South Africa where only 26% of the population is fully vaccinated (Miao, 2021). To put things more into perspective, the population of South Africa is 59.31 million (2020) and only about 15 million individuals are fully vaccinated. The huge gap in unvaccinated individuals most likely gave the Coronavirus the ability to infect and mutate inside human hosts, allowing the virus to learn how to survive for longer periods of time in humans. This again exemplifies the dangers of vaccine inequity and how by allowing the gap to continue to grow between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, the world is prolonging the pandemic for a much longer period of time.
Are we ready to clean up our act?
Vaccine inequity has been an underlying issue for years for many diseases and illnesses, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only shining a bit of light on the prolonged injustice. It is absolutely crucial that the international community come together and work to solve this crucial issue. Without proper distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, many individuals will remain at high risk and remain more susceptible to contracting the virus, leading to an endless loop of infections and pushing the world into an already prolonged state of emergency. Vaccine inequity is an issue that must be acknowledged and accounted for to fight COVID-19 and bring the pandemic to an end.
Burki, T. (2021). Global COVID-19 vaccine inequity. The Lancet Infectious Disease . Retrieved January 22, 2022, from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(21)00344-3/fulltext.
Kim, H. (2021, July 1). We need people's who to solve vaccine inequity, and we need it now. BMJ Global Health. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from https://gh.bmj.com/content/6/7/e006598.
Miao, H. (2021, December 23). Who says Covid booster programs limit vaccine supply for poor countries, could prolong pandemic. CNBC. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/22/who-says-covid-vaccine-booster-programs-will-prolong-pandemic.html
UN News. (2021, December 22). Who warns against blanket boosters, as vaccine inequity persists | | UN news. United Nations. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/12/1108622