Why not vaccinating the world will put us all at risk


The group aims to immunize around 20% of the world’s population, focusing on hard-to-reach populations in Africa, Latin America and Asia. To do this, it needs an additional $ 4.9 billion on top of the $ 2.1 billion already collected. But there are other issues. Cheaper, easier to transport vaccines like those promised by AstraZeneca have been slower to gain regulatory approval. Meanwhile, other companies seem less interested in participating: Doctors Without Borders found that only 2% of Pfizer’s global supply went to Covax, and Moderna is still “in talks” with the organization.

“Covax is a critical starting point which, without President Biden’s commitment, had a high probability of failure. It looks better now, but could still fail if he doesn’t get the money and vaccines, ”says Barry Bloom, a global health researcher at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Biden officially led the US government to join Covax at the end of January.

If it can be successful, the international program has many advantages. It establishes a mechanism of fairness that does not depend on colonial counterpart mentalities, Bloom says. It also frees individual rich countries from having to determine which countries are receiving what percentage of vaccines. “It’s a way of saying someone else will take the rap, especially for the delivery time,” he says.

We are not safe until we are all safe

The motive for getting the vaccine to poorer countries more quickly is not just altruism: evolution will punish any delay. SARS-CoV-2 has already evolved into several disturbing new variants, and this process will continue. If countries with large populations wait for years to be vaccinated, the virus will continue to mutate – potentially to the point where the first available vaccines lose their effectiveness. It will be bad for everyone, but the poorest countries, with less access to updated vaccines, will again feel the impact more.

“We have more mutants and they are killing more,” Bloom says.

Judd Walson, a global health researcher at the University of Washington, is more concerned about the indirect effects of the pandemic in the developing world, where in many places covid-19 does not even rank among the top 20 causes of death. Health systems have devoted a lot of staff and resources to the fight against the pandemic – setting up quarantine centers, surveillance, etc. In addition, donors and ministries have been turned away from diarrhea, malaria and other killers.

As a result, these other programs suffer: vaccination rates against diseases such as measles, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis are falling. in decline, both because of a lack of supplies and staff, and because people are afraid to go to health centers. “All of these other things that kill people are being overlooked, so failing to provide a vaccine against covid is preventing governments from getting back to their priorities before the pandemic,” says Walson.

And while virus variants can travel quickly in a highly connected world, so can economic instability. This is one thing to remember from a recent article published by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research. Sebnem Kalemli-Özcan, an economist at the University of Maryland, and his colleagues analyzed how delays in the global distribution of vaccines would affect the economies of countries whose populations had previously been vaccinated.

The economic cost of inequity

They found that a world where the poorest countries have to wait to be vaccinated would suffer a global economic loss of around $ 9 trillion this year, with rich countries absorbing nearly half of those losses due to declining trade. and fractured supply lines. (A similar study by RAND Corporation estimated that failure to ensure equitable distribution of the covid-19 vaccine could cost the global economy up to $ 1.2 trillion per year.) Ensuring equitable distribution is in fact in the best interests of advanced economies. “Their blow will return and strike you,” Kalemli-Özcan says.

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