How Covid-19 variants and bureaucracy are widening the vaccine equity gap
Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, a global race to develop, manufacture and distribute vaccines began. And with that began the never ending debate over vaccine equity. The economic chasm between nations came to forefront as leading nations kickstarted vaccine development with no open production rights waiver.
After much debate on international stage, a global initiative to share Covid-19 vaccine was launched by WHO – COVAX. Under the initiative, vaccine manufacturing giants would share a pre-decided bulk of vaccines that would be circulated among poor and developing nations. But that promise was never fulfilled, as it should have been, thanks to bureaucracy!
Gavi, the vaccine alliance that operates COVAX said that a substantial number of vaccines might only be available by end of 2022 or even 2023. This is while wealthier nations drag on their vaccine donations and effectively lock-up millions of vaccines.
While the booster doses are being administered in leading nations, poorer countries like in Africa are even waiting for a good number to receive first dose. As a result, variants keep on emerging to bite us in the back, latest being Omicron virus. The highly mutated virus, that was first detected in South Africa, is now feared to evade the immunity achieved through vaccines.
Now even if the COVAX initiative secures the doses, there will still be a gaping need for the developing nations. COVAX’s new promise is to distribute 1.4 billion doses, but documents suggest mid- and low-income countries require 4.65 billion doses to vaccinate 70% of their populations.
This number can further shoot up as new variants can lead to requirement of new vaccine development. Currently, while more than 50 per cent of global population has received at least first dose of vaccine, poor nations have got only 6 per cent vaccinated with the first dose. Further increasing the vaccine equity chasm, world’s leading countries are pushing for third and fourth doses as booster vaccination.
Bureaucracy has not left WHO and Gavi alliance too. While they celebrated huge vaccine “promises” by leading nations in bold headlines, the actually delivered number was quietly hidden from public scrutiny. Even as the biggest donor nations began vaccinating children and administering booster doses, the WHO chose to remain silent despite of earlier pledge and plea to nations to prioritize vaccinating poor nations first.