According to the United Nations, 75% of all COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered among just 10 countries, while 130 countries have not received even a single dose of the vaccine, as of mid-February 2021 (Al Jazeera, 2021). Global health and political leaders have condemned this unbalanced distribution of vaccines and are taking action to ensure vaccine equity. Dr. Tebros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said in a recent address, “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” (United Nations, 2021).
Vaccine equity is the global intent to ensure that all have fair access to the COVID vaccine in order to overcome the virus that is threatening every nation. Unless the roadblocks to success for international cooperation on equitable vaccine access and delivery are removed, the world risks prolonging the pandemic by creating a two-tier vaccine system—the haves and the have-nots, the eternal battle of rich versus poor. Many rich nations have set the lofty goal of vaccinating at least 80% of their populations. Even if these countries were to achieve this goal, without the equitable distribution of vaccines to poorer nations, they run the risk in a global economy of contracting a COVID-19 variant more immune to the vaccine and bringing it back to their own nation, thus perpetuating the pandemic.
The movement to increase the distribution of vaccines to poorer nations has gained momentum under WHO’S 100-day challenge (United Nations, 2021). In February 2021, G7 leaders pledged to intensify cooperation on COVID-19 and increase their contribution to vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX (Parker, Williams, Peel, & Chazan, 2021). As the WHO’s January 2021 Vaccine Equity Declaration states:
“We must act swiftly to correct this injustice. Multiple variants are showing increased transmissibility and even resistance to the health tools needed to tackle this virus. The best way to end this pandemic, stop future variants, and save lives is to limit the spread of the virus by vaccinating quickly and equitably, starting with health workers.” (World Health Organization, 2021).
The data of equity
As of this article’s publication, over two million people have died from COVID-19. As a New York Times article puts into perspective, that is more than the population of the state of Nebraska, and nearly equal to the population of the entire country of Slovenia (Santora & Wolfe, 2021).