The management of the global vaccine rollout demands a fair trade of management responsibility, Matthew Parkes asks whether the human race will work together or unilaterally…
By Matthew Parkes: Political Columnist
Over 780 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, however, the distribution of the jabs is wildly unequal.
As countries and individuals look for ways to secure additional orders of the sought-after vaccines, many others find themselves without protection from the virus that has plagued the world for the last year. With many governments beginning to loosen lockdown restrictions, those without evidence of being vaccinated face further limitations of their freedoms.
WHO recently criticised the world’s distribution of vaccines, pointing out that in high income countries 1 in 4 people have received a jab, whereas this was closer to 1 in 500 in lower income countries.
In some countries such as Pakistan, governments have allowed the private sector to order vaccine doses. Whilst this gives citizens access to the drug, the privilege of attaining one comes at a high price. In Pakistan, they sell the Sputnik vaccine at $80 which is 30% of the average monthly income in the country. The cost is also 4x the international market price.
COVAX, an initiative which aims to distribute vaccine doses to countries that don’t have the political or economic power to negotiate access to the valuable drugs, has been hit by a multitude of delays. This is believed to have stemmed from India refusing to export doses of the AstraZeneca jab which are being produced in the country.
In more economically developed countries with successful vaccination programmes such as the United Kingdom, the authorities are struggling with engaging marginalised communities. The NHS has dedicated £4.2 million to tackle a perceived lack of vaccine uptake in areas of the country with large minority and economically deprived groups.
The so-called ‘vaccine passports’ have garnered several headlines in the UK for a variety of reasons, but the restrictions that might be imposed on communities that choose not to accept a vaccine could cause significant inequalities as we emerge into the post-Covid world.
The current suggested restrictions would require people to show proof of a vaccine or a negative test if they wanted to go to theatres, festivals, night clubs, and sport events. The risk is that if minority or economically deprived communities fail to adhere to these rules, they will miss out on recreational activities, which could thereby increase tension with the authorities working in these areas.
It could also risk alienating these marginalised communities from the general population, causing further rifts to emerge.
Perhaps the most important implication is the impact that a low vaccination take-up will have on the health and death rate of this population. Particularly in economically deprived areas, the effect that serious cases and ‘long-covid’ could have on employment risks making these communities even more destitute.
Internationally, the lack of vaccinations in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa has set-back the effort to treat Coronavirus patients suffering from severe symptoms. There are thousands of stories of unvaccinated healthcare workers dying from the virus. These are tales of individual tragedy but they also impede on the ability of healthcare organisations to treat their patients, thereby exacerbating the deadly impact of the disease.
International and national agencies must be proactive in dealing with these inequalities. Whilst many have argued that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have illustrated the divides in our society, the effort to immunise the world may exacerbate them. In the short-term it may be politically popular to focus on hoarding doses to compete on global vaccine leader boards, but in the long term, an increasingly unequal world benefits no-one.