Distressed economies, growing inequalities and millions of vulnerable people: the urgent need for equity in vaccines |

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Developed countries are much more likely to immunize their citizens, which risks prolonging the pandemic and deepening global inequalities. Ahead of a dialogue at the UN Monday between senior UN officials, UN News explains the importance of equity in vaccines.

What is vaccine equity?

© UNICEF / Francis Kokoroko

A 76-year-old man shows his vaccination card after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Kasoa, Ghana.

Quite simply, this means that all people, wherever they are in the world, should have equal access to a vaccine that offers protection against COVID-19 infection.

WHO has set a global target of 70% of the population of all countries to be vaccinated by mid-2022, but to achieve this goal, more equitable access to vaccines will be needed.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said vaccine equity was “neither rocket science nor charity. It’s smart public health and in everyone’s best interest.

Why is this so important?


The mother of a family from an indigenous group in Brazil receives a COVID-19 inoculation.

© OPS

The mother of a family from an indigenous group in Brazil receives a COVID-19 inoculation.

Aside from the ethical argument that no country or citizen deserves more than another, rich or poor, an infectious disease like COVID-19 will remain a threat on a global scale, as long as it will exist anywhere in the world.

The inequitable distribution of vaccines not only leaves millions or billions of people vulnerable to the deadly virus, it also allows even more deadly variants to emerge and spread across the world.

In addition, unequal distribution of vaccines will exacerbate inequalities and exaggerate the gap between rich and poor and reverse decades of hard-won gains in human development.

According to the UN, vaccine inequity will have a lasting impact on socio-economic recovery in low and lower middle income countries and delay progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the UNDP, eight in ten people plunged into poverty directly by the pandemic are expected to live in the world’s poorest countries by 2030.

Estimates also suggest that the economic impacts of COVID-19 could last until 2024 in low-income countries, while high-income countries could achieve pre-COVID-19 GDP per capita growth rates of. here the end of this year.

Does it work?


Confirmed cases of COVID-19 (September 15, 2021)

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 (September 15, 2021), by WHO

Not according to Dr Tedros, who said in April this year that “vaccine equity is the challenge of our time … and we are failing”.

Research suggests that enough vaccines will be produced in 2021 to cover 70% of the world’s 7.8 billion population. However, most vaccines are reserved for rich countries, while other vaccine-producing countries restrict the export of doses so that they can ensure that their own citizens get vaccinated first, an approach that has been qualified as “vaccine nationalism”. The decision by some countries to give already vaccinated citizens a booster vaccine, rather than prioritizing doses for unvaccinated people in poorer countries was highlighted as an example of this trend.

Yet the good news, according to WHO data, is that as of September 15, more than 5.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide, although since most of the available vaccines require two injections, the number of people protected is much lower. .

Which countries are receiving the vaccines at the moment?

Simply put, rich countries receive the majority of vaccines, with many poor countries struggling to vaccinate even a small number of citizens.

According to the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity (compiled by UNDP, WHO and the University of Oxford) as of September 15, only 3.07% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose, against 60.18% in high income countries. -income countries.

The UK vaccination rate of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine is around 70.92% while it is currently 65.2% in the US. Other high- and middle-income countries are not doing as well; New Zealand only vaccinated 31.97% of its relatively small population of around five million, although Brazil is now at 63.31%. However, the statistics for some of the world’s poorest countries are grim. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, only 0.09% of the population received a dose; in Papua New Guinea and Venezuela, the rate is 1.15 percent and 20.45 percent respectively.

Find more country specific data here.

What is the price of a vaccine?


A nurse holds a dose of vaccine at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

© UNICEF / Raphaël Pouget

A nurse holds a dose of vaccine at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

UNICEF data shows that the average cost of a COVID-19 vaccine is $ 2 to $ 37 (there are 24 vaccines that have been approved by at least one national regulatory authority) and the cost of distribution estimated by person is $ 3.70. This places a significant financial burden on low-income countries, where, according to the UNDP, the average annual health expenditure per capita is $ 41.

According to the Vaccine Equity Dashboard, without immediate global financial support, low-income countries would need to increase their health spending by 57% to meet the goal of immunizing 70% of their citizens.

What has the UN done to promote more equitable access to vaccines?


A delivery of COVID-19 vaccination doses provided through the COVAX facility is being monitored in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

© UNICEF / Arlette Bashizi

A delivery of COVID-19 vaccination doses provided through the COVAX facility is being monitored in Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

WHO and UNICEF have worked with other organizations to establish and manage the COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Center, known as COVAX. Launched in April 2020, the WHO called it a “revolutionary global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.”

Its objective is to guarantee fair and equitable access for all countries of the world based on needs and not on purchasing power.

Currently, COVAX has 141 participants according to the UN-backed Gavi alliance, but this is not the only way for countries to access vaccines as they can also enter into bilateral agreements with manufacturers.

Will equal access to vaccines end the pandemic?


Students at a school in Cambodia study despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

© UNICEF / Antoine Raab

Students at a school in Cambodia study despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a crucial step, obviously, and in many richer countries life is returning to some sort of normalcy for many people, even though some pandemic protocols are still in place. The situation in less developed countries is more difficult. While the delivery of vaccines, provided under the COVAX Facility, is welcomed around the world, weak health systems, including shortages of health workers, are contributing to increasing health problems. access and distribution on the ground.

And equity issues do not go away once vaccines are physically delivered in the country; in some countries, rich as well as poor, distributional inequalities may still persist.

It should also be remembered that the imperative to ensure equal access to health care is of course not a new issue, but at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals and more specifically of SDG 3 on health and well-being, which calls for the achievement of universality of health coverage and essential drugs and vaccines affordable for all.

ODD moment

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Achim Steiner, the head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP, and Vera Songwe, who heads the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) will participate in a conversation on vaccine equity as part of the SDG Moment Watch here on UN Web TV.

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