With multiple of announcements, approval, and plans for COVID-19 vaccines popping up left and right, it may seem like we are reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. But, the reality is that right now, the priority for these approved vaccines is to be used only on high-risk individuals, frontline healthcare workers, and staff in assisted living facilities in wealthier countries within North America, Europe, and Asia. Even with the approval of these vaccinations, within those countries, it will be at least several months for the vaccination to become available to the general public. However, if we put this into prospective, the several months wait in those countries does not compare at all to countries of lower to middle income that will most likely have to wait years to have significant access to coronavirus vaccines.
The United States has now approved two vaccines for emergency use. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer was approved first for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 11. Then seven days later, the FDA approved the Moderna vaccine for EUA for individuals over the age of 18. During the clinical trial, Pfizer was reported to exceed expectations while Moderna vaccination was developed with the help of the U.S. National Institute of Health.
Canada and the United Kingdom will begin vaccinating high-risk individuals and frontline healthcare workers as well. Pfizer is supplying the vaccine in Canada. The United Kingdom was actually the first to approve Pfizer’s vaccine on December 2nd, which is the first approval of a vaccine that was tested in large clinical trials. Also, let’s not forget, China has already developed a vaccine, given over a million vaccinations since the summer, and promised to deploy vaccinations to other countries. Additionally, Russia has developed its own vaccine called Sputnik V. Manufacturers in India will be producing 300 million doses of Russia’s vaccine beginning next year.
While this progress is good and exciting after the long year that many have faced, the issue of distribution of vaccines across the globe is not an issue to ignore. Wealthier nations have been able to make deals and buy these vaccinations before they were even tested or approved. On the other hand, developing countries and countries of lower-income are rightfully concerned about when they will be significantly accessible for their countries.
In the wake of the pandemic, a global alliance has formed to provide nations of lower-income with coronavirus vaccine called COVAX. The alliance is led by the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic. There are 190 countries and territories that are participating in the alliance; this includes at least 92 donor-funded or low to middle-income countries. Under these alliances, countries contribute money to manufacturers and support the development of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Even with the alliance, many countries in less affluent parts of the world face crippling uncertainty as countries have secured pre-market agreements for the dose of the vaccine. Even countries and nations like Canada, Japan, the European Union, and the United Kingdom that are a part of the COVAX alliance have secured these pre-market agreements. A study on pre-market commitments for the COVID-19 vaccine by Anthony D. So and Joshua Woo confirms that the level uncertainty felt within these countries is valid. As of November 15, 2020, 51% of the doses will go to high-income countries from 13 vaccine manufacturers. That is equivalent to over 7 billion doses, and those countries only represent 14% of the world’s population.
Vaccine nationalism, in which countries are putting the vaccinations and domestic needs before others, will not return the world to the place that it once was before the outbreak. Countries and nations wanting the vaccination to protect their citizens and fight the virus is not inherently wrong. The issue is that without equal distribution of the vaccine, it is believed the pandemic can continue to be a threat for years, and as of now, it could take years to produce an adequate number of doses for the globe. Ultimately, there are limited resources. First come distribution method for the vaccines and nations claiming a majority of the vaccines does not insure equal distribution.
The premarket deals being made and vaccine nationalism is quickly making it harder and harder for COVAX to be able to deliver vaccinations to countries that need it. As wealthier countries secure more vaccinations than they need, it leaves lower-income countries with little options, and more suffering. The reality is the majority of COVID-19 vaccines produced in 2021 will more than likely be reserved for wealthier nations as they have reserved enough to cover more than their total population.
This exploitative system – which is reflective of that which has taken advantage of lower-income for centuries as a result of white supremacy, colonialism, and hierarchical power structures – will leave a significant portion of the world that is not able to secure premarket agreements without adequate access to vaccinations until at least 2022 and possibly even 2024. While the efforts of COVAX were meant to support the equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines during this global pandemic and consist of nations of various income levels, it seems that the labor and collaborative of efforts of countries of lower-income will benefit wealthier nations first as premarket deals that lack transparency and are not disclosed are continuously made for more doses of the vaccine.
People around the world have suffered and made sacrifices together throughout the year because of the coronavirus, but with the current deepening disparities between the distribution of vaccinations between countries of different incomes, it is more than clear that we certainly will not be reaching the end of the tunnel together.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!