More than 71 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in countries around the world, but only 55 of those doses have been given to people living in the 29 poorest countries, according to the Washington Post.
The sole low-income country administering vaccines is Guinea, which is doing so because Russia donated 55 doses of its experimental Sputnik V vaccine as part of a "climate of good bilateral relations," the Washington Post reported.
Such glaring inequality in vaccine allocation threatens the global recovery from the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization.
“I need to be blunt,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said in a recent speech. “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure — and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.
“Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue,” he said. “This is wrong.”
COVAX refers to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, which aims to secure and deploy vaccines to low-income countries under the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. COVAX has already received guarantees for 2 billion vaccines, but Dr. Tedros warns that countries appear to not be honoring these commitments. The rush to vaccinate populations in high-income countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States has left few vaccines available for the world’s most vulnerable populations.
“This could delay COVAX deliveries and create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid, with hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption,” Dr. Tedros said.
“Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it’s also self-defeating,” he added. “Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering. Vaccine equity is not just a moral imperative, it is a strategic and economic imperative.”
Dr. Tedros noted that a recent study showed equitable vaccine distribution would net high-income countries 12 times the cost of the ACT-Accelerator by 2025 because of how it would stabilize the global economy. The longer countries go without vaccines, the more likely it becomes that treatment-resistant strains of COVID-19 will emerge.
It’s not only a matter of delivering vaccines to poor countries that’s key. The health systems in these countries also need support storing, administering, and promoting vaccines, according to the WHO.
The race to overcome the pandemic will inevitably lead to a staggered vaccine rollout, but Dr. Tedros insisted that priority populations should receive the vaccine regardless of their location.
“I call on all countries to work together in solidarity to ensure that within the first 100 days of this year, vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries,” he said.
“It’s in the best interest of each and every nation on Earth.”