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COVID-19: Price Rich Nations Will Pay For Not Vaccinating The Rest

The choice before rich nations is clear: help vaccinate the developing world, or face a prolonged pandemic.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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Late March 2021, a plane carrying 600,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Accra, Ghana, a shipment made possible by Covax, an ambitious initiative led by Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – to speed up procurement and delivery of inoculations around the world. It was welcome news, but not nearly sufficient to the challenge: achieving the necessary immunity with the two-dose vaccine for more than 30 million Ghanaians will require many more shipments like this.

The world tumbled into the COVID catastrophe together, and we must emerge from it together.

Only by vaccinating the whole of the developing world can the US and other advanced economies fully recover from the pandemic. Unfortunately, the initiative that oversees Covax already faces a budget shortfall—around USD 23 billion as of this writing. Ending the pandemic everywhere will require creativity, assertive diplomacy, and a commitment to swift action—for example, using innovative economic measures to close that budget shortfall. But it is imminently within our reach.

Inequitable COVID Vaccine Distribution & Impact On Developing World

To date, COVID has killed millions and undermined life for billions. An insufficient and inequitable response to the pandemic risks dividing the world in two. Advanced economies, feasting on fiscal and monetary stimulus and freed up by early access to vaccines, look likely to move beyond the worst of the pandemic by later this year. Meanwhile, developing economies, with less fiscal space and access to vaccines and other treatments, may be mired in the pandemic for years, losing lives and further ground against poverty, hunger, and disease.

The longer this crisis lasts, the wider this divergence will grow, exacerbating stark disparities between these two worlds and increasing health, economic, and eventually security risks for all of us.

Vaccine-resistant variants that mutate in an under-vaccinated country can quickly spread to one that’s been immunised. As developing economies struggle with outbreaks and sluggish growth, developed economies will eventually suffer. And amid outbreaks and recessions, nations are more likely to pose risks to others through the spread of unrest or even war

Even with so many problems demanding attention at home, the most critical step is getting the world vaccinated. Unfortunately, vaccination distribution has thus far been deeply inadequate and inequitable.

According to Bloomberg, 22 percent of those in the United States have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while in Ghana, only 0.7 percent of the population have done the same. With so few vaccinated in the developing world, new outbreaks and development of additional variants are inevitable. Such variants may be more transmissible, more deadly, less responsive to existing vaccines and therapeutics, or a combination of these dangerous changes.

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What US & Other Rich Nations Stand to Lose If They Don’t Vaccinate Developing Countries

A recent study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation found that the global economy could lose USD 9.2 trillion in 2021 alone without adequate vaccine access in developing countries. A similar study by the Rand Corporation revealed that even if the US and other countries achieve ‘herd immunity’, there will be continued economic costs associated with COVID if it can mutate elsewhere.

Indeed, Rand estimated that for every dollar the US and other advanced economies spend providing vaccines to poor countries, they would receive USD 4.80 in value.

Despite President Biden’s decisions to send vaccines to Canada and Mexico and to commit nearly USD 4 billion to WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, of which Covax is one part, the world does not have what it needs to end the pandemic.

For one thing, even with the US pledge, the ACT Accelerator is already USD 23 billion short of the funds needed for this year alone. For another, that budget only reflected a plan to achieve 20 percent immunisation coverage in 92 low- and middle-income countries by the end of the year—far short of what is needed. Economist Jeff Sachs suggests USD 50 billion will be needed through 2022 to reach ‘herd immunity’ around the world.

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How to Fund Shortfall In COVID Immunisation Budget?

We have ways to fund this shortfall. For example, last month, G20 finance ministers recommended the International Monetary Fund explore issuing special drawing rights, which are supplemental foreign currency assets that can supplement member countries’ official reserves. With creative thinking and the backing of the IMF and members of the G20, some of this liquidity should be leveraged to fund Covax and support the response to COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries.

Sufficient funding is just one part of this challenge. Covax, again with the support of wealthy nations currently consuming the vast majority of vaccines being produced, must also develop a multilateral plan on the equitable, consistent supply of vaccines and an operational plan to vaccinate entire populations within the next two years.

Some of these resources will need to be spent on the health workers and systems required to get a dose from a delivery plane to where it can be delivered into someone’s arm.

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Where’s the Global Commitment to Vaccinate the World?

Until the whole world is vaccinated, the whole world will be at risk. The longer the world lets the novel coronavirus run free to infect and mutate, the more likely the world will face a prolonged pandemic or another outbreak altogether, pervasive economic decline, and other crises.

One year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the question is not how the world can vaccinate itself, but whether the global commitment exists to do so.

Now is the time to decide—ending this pandemic depends on it.

(Disclaimer: This article was first published on Fortune and has been reproduced with permission. The original article can be read here.)

(Rajiv Shah is president of the Rockefeller Foundation. From 2010 to 2015, he served as administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). He tweets @rajshah. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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