Self-defeating reassurance: Inequity of COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines have given hope to the world to end the year-long pandemic.

By the end of March, 518 million vaccine doses had been administered. Yet, while some countries had over 50 doses administered per 100 people, others are being left behind.

Thirty-nine countries had less than one dose administered for every 100 people. Among those countries, more than half are either low-income or lower-middle-income economies.

"Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries. The world's poorest countries wonder whether rich countries really mean what they say when they talk about solidarity," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. "The inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage. It's also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating.”

Richer countries are not only racing to inoculate as many people as possible, but also hoarding COVID-19 vaccines at the expense of poorer ones.

By the end of March, 10.6 billion doses had been secured by countries and organizations, according to the UNICEF COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard.

If equally distributed, these doses could cover nearly 70 percent of the world's population, as most of the vaccines require two doses.

Yet, as high-income economies took up to 31 percent of all secured shots, low-income economies only reserved 0.2 percent.

Canada is the country that hoards the most. It has reserved 9.6 doses per capita, nearly five times more than the doses needed. While Ghana, only has 0.000066 doses per person.

"The more transmission, the more variants, and the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines. As long as the virus continues to circulate anywhere people will continue to die, trade and travel will continue to be disrupted and the economic recovery will be further delayed," said Ghebreyesus.

Many poorer countries are now relying on COVAX, the only global initiative to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.

In February, COVAX set out a plan for global distribution of 337 million doses of vaccines for participating countries. In the longer term, COVAX aims to deliver more than two billion doses across the world by the end of this year.

China has pledged to contribute to the equal distribution and make its vaccines a public good.

This country is providing, or will provide vaccine aid, to 80 countries and three international organizations.

The scope of vaccine aid covers 26 Asian countries, 34 African countries, four countries in Europe, 10 in the Americas, and six in Oceania. China is also providing vaccine aid to the African Union, the Arab League and UN peacekeepers.

Script and data editor: Hu Xuechen

Video editor: Li Ningning

Animation & graphics: Xu Qianyun, Liu Shaozhen, Li Jingjie, Gao Hongmei, Feng Yuan, Yin Yating

Voiceover & copy editor: John Goodrich

Chief editors: Qin Xiaohu, Wang Dewei

Project managers: Li Tianfu, Dang Zheng

Producer: Si Nan

Supervisor: Zhang Shilei

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