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Equal right to covid-19 vaccination for the global south: obstacles & the path ahead

The World Health Organization (WHO), in a study, found that low- and lower-middle-income countries were largely left out in the vaccination process. Further, rich nations have ‘hoarded’ vaccines, leaving a majority of the population living in poor countries without any access to vaccination. A report by Oxfam stated that “the estimated cost of providing a vaccine for everyone on Earth is less than 1 percent of the projected cost of COVID-19 to the global economy”, providing a bleak future where billions of people would have no access to vaccines for years to come.

 

Even as pharmaceutical companies have struck deals with national governments, 67 low-income countries are not in a position to make similar deals. These countries are then reliant solely on the Covax programme, which has not received enough support. It has secured about 700 million doses, sufficient to vaccinate only 10% of the population in the respective 67 countries.

This statistic is alarming and should concern the entire global community, given the fact that unless a majority of the world’s population is vaccinated, the threat of the virus will continue to loom. In many countries, such as the United States and Canada, governments have simply purchased more doses than the size of their population. This type of vaccine nationalism has left low-income countries in the global south, which are already struggling to combat the virus’ spread, without any proper recourse. Although it is understandable that countries will prioritise citizens when it comes to vaccination, they also have an obligation to assist and aid other countries, and in particular, not make it difficult for such countries to access vaccines.

Scientists and healthcare experts have warned that vaccine nationalism will only hamper the fight to end the pandemic in the long run because the ‘herd immunity’ sought to be achieved through vaccination is simply not possible if more than half of the world’s population is left without access. Further, given the evidence of the virus’ ability to mutate, the lack of vaccination will leave the possibility of a mutated strain affecting the vaccines’ efficacy.

Thus, nations must come together and act towards ensuring vaccination for all. This can be done through supplying vaccines (for instance, India’s supply to certain African nations), financing the vaccination purchase or giving financial loans to low-income countries to purchase the vaccines. The global drive for vaccination will not be easy – but it is possible. The COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time through concerted efforts, and through proper coordination and collaboration; it can be distributed throughout the world in record time as well. Countries can ensure this by collaborating with local authorities and organizations, engaging in structured discussions with leaders from low-income countries as well as financial organizations, and ensuring the presence of robust supply chains. Given COVID-19 vaccination is a necessity, countries must look at this not as a favour to other nations, but rather as a fulfilment of their international obligations to not only protect the global community, but also their own citizens against covid-19 by achieving herd immunity as fast as possible. The only way out of the pandemic is by working together, and for that to happen, vaccine nationalism must be prevented wherever possible, with rich nations being compelled to realize the duty they owe towards the entire international community.