Majd Mansour, a ONE activist from the UK, is sharing how the unfair vaccine distribution globally is severely impacting already existing inequalities in the world.
It is no secret that some of the world’s richest nations have a surplus supply of COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, it was expected. However, only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one vaccine dose. The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, went as far as labeling this major discrepancy in global vaccine distribution as a “vaccine apartheid.” Now, as many fortunate populations begin to resume a life of normality, the “apartheid” he describes poses a threat to all of us.
While the COVAX initiative’s efforts and the recent 1 billion dose pledge at the G7 are welcomed, the dire situation in the world’s poorest nations highlights that more must be done to avoid living in “Pandemica” – a world where COVID-19 is eternal.
Diseases as infectious and deadly as COVID-19 thrive on inequity. Having already cost over 4 million lives worldwide and caused unprecedented damage to global GDP – $76.7 billion in the best-case scenario and $346.98 billion in the worst – it is evident that the pandemic is a global problem, thus necessitating a global solution. Not only does leaving large swathes of the world’s population unvaccinated allow for deadly variants to wreak havoc, as we have seen in places like Brazil and India, but it allows for possibly more dangerous ones to emerge – an eventual vaccine-resistant strain could put us all back to square one.
The pandemic’s impact on women and girls
Furthermore, vaccine inequity not only costs lives but entrenches already worrying socioeconomic inequalities. Women and girls have suffered disproportionate indirect consequences of the pandemic, ranging from a three times higher infection rate for female healthcare workers in comparison to their male counterparts, to a 19% higher risk of falling into unemployment. Prolonging the pandemic through vaccine inequity not only exacerbates such issues, but also keeps hundreds of millions of young people out of school, and in the world’s poorest nations, this puts young girls at an increased risk of early marriage or forced labour.
COVID’s impacts on refugees
Another disproportionately impacted community is refugees and forcibly displaced people. Lower-income countries host 40 million of the world’s refugees, yet only have access to 3% of the world’s vaccine supply. If life-saving vaccine sharing efforts are not urgently amplified in the coming months, then the impact on such communities will be catastrophic. Refugee camps, like Zaatari in Jordan, are often cramped and overcrowded, with limited hygiene and medical supplies, consequently creating the perfect environment for COVID-19 to spread. Having already endured immeasurable suffering, the world owes it to such vulnerable communities to ensure equitable vaccine access and national governments must ensure that refugees and forcibly displaced people are included in their vaccination rollout plans.
Overall, it is clear that if we do not see more cooperation to address the current disparity of vaccine access for the rich and the poor, the calamitous socioeconomic consequences of a prolonged pandemic will arrive. Whether it is through the waiving of intellectual property rights to allow for life-saving knowledge to be shared globally, or increased funding for COVAX and foreign aid, more must be done to ensure the pandemic ends for everyone, everywhere.