This article is written by Aritra Mitra, a student at National Law University Odisha.
The universal vaccination seems like a distant dream now, because out of the 80 million COVID vaccine doses distributed around the world so far, only 55 million doses has gone to low-income countries, and that only to Guinea.
As the coronavirus keeps spreading and also new dangerous variants keep popping up, low-income countries are not even sure when and if the vaccination process shall take place. But the story is quite in contrast to what is happening in wealthy countries. These countries have already made pre-purchases to access to vaccine, and can vaccinate their whole population in ease. While these countries have already started vaccinating, many countries are still waiting to get their first batch of doses.
High-income nations form 16% of the world population, but possess 60% of the world’s vaccine doses. With this level of progress, they will be witnessing slowing of the pandemic within next year and people will be soon be coming back to their normal life i.e., the pre-pandemic life. On the other hand, it seems like fanciful dream to the lower-income countries. It would take few more years to get access to full-fledged vaccination service. Agathe Demarais of the EIU, said in a briefing that many developing countries will not have complete access before 2023.
This greedy hoarding of the vaccine doses by rich countries will be proving very costly, as it will have unintended consequences like reigniting of the outbreaks, variants resisting vaccines, etc. And the most interesting part is that it will not only be taking place in poor countries but the well-off countries will also have to eventually face. But the greed here keeps suppressing the reality.
Why is there a disparity in the distribution of COVID vaccines among countries?
The primary answer to this is that the COVID-19 vaccines are not a public good. So, the rich and middle-income countries make pre-purchases with the manufactures, and get their hands on the doses early, and cause a scarcity. This scarcity leads to competition among the low-income countries for the few doses at an expensive price.
As of January 27, the majority of the 80.2 million vaccine doses have gone to citizens in only few of the high- and middle-income countries and regions (namely, the US, China, the EU, the UK, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates).
Several middle-income countries — the poorest among them include India, Myanmar, Ecuador, and Indonesia — have doled out 2.3 million doses in total. Most — 2.03 million — went to people in India.
But the lowest-income countries — for instance, Zambia, Bolivia, Tajikistan, and Nepal — have no idea as to when the vaccination is supposed to begin.
Enough doses were manufactured to fully vaccinate the world population, but the pre-purchases led to possession of 3.8 billion vaccine doses, and option for 5 billion more. This is how the rich and middle-income countries have starved of the poor countries of access to vaccine.
How to stop hoarding?
Currently, vaccine distribution process is very much lagging in the rich countries due to several reasons like failure from manufacturer’s side, or setting up a distribution system, etc. This has led to calls for preventing hoarding and sharing the excess with poor needy countries through the process of Covax.
Oxfam has suggested that in order to fight vaccination constraints, countries should think about building regional vaccine production hubs, which will produce vaccines at the places that require them and also at a lower price.
Another method that can be opted for is collaboration among manufacturers. High-income countries can push the effective manufactures to collaborate with other manufacturers on production, technology sharing, or even waiving intellectual property rights with them. One such perfect example is that between Astra Zeneca and Serum India.
Then the high-income countries can also opt for simple donating of excess vaccine. Inoculating only the frontline health workers and old people should be the only priority, and the rest should be distributed to the needy nations. But it is very difficult for a leader of a nation to donate vaccine while still vaccinating their own people. There lies an ethical and political justification to put your country first, then think about others.
But Norway on the other hand has managed to do exactly that by purchasing three times the requirement, it plans to redistribute the excess to other nations. The distribution will begin parallelly to their vaccination drive.
Now, it depends country to country, who wants to show acts of selflessness or who wants to put its people first. And other hand the poor countries wait for the excess to trickle down to them.
Disclaimer: This article is an original submission of the Author. NLR does not hold any liability arising out of this article.