The world is in a race against COVID-19, and the World Health Organization says it is falling behind.
Dismal vaccination rates in poorer nations are a result of the high concentration of supply in wealthier countries, and the combination threatens to continue endangering millions around the world.
That’s why Colorado State University’s Office of International Programs will host Safura Abdool Karim, a member of the Africa CDC’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance. She will join an online discussion about the state of global vaccine equity and what can be done about it.
It is slated for Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. via Zoom. Prior registration is required.
Why is vaccine equity important?
While the virus continues mutating into ever more dangerous variants, the WHO’s goal of vaccinating at least 10% of every country’s population by September 2021 was a failure.
According to the organization’s own data, 56 countries — most of them in Africa — fell short of the threshold in spite of initiatives such as COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility launched in partnership with Gavi and UNICEF in April 2020. Even more countries risk missing the WHO’s future targets of 40% by the end of the year and 70% by mid-2022.
Abdool Karim, said the inequity of vaccine access is stark: While almost half of the world’s total population is now vaccinated, she says only about 3.5% of people in low- and middle-income countries account for that.
“People may believe that once they have been vaccinated, that is all that is needed to end their concerns about the pandemic,” Abdool Karim said via email. “One is not safe until all are safe. Controlling this pandemic is a global endeavor that requires solidarity between all countries. If some countries are left without vaccines while others are throwing away doses, this pandemic will continue to be a problem for everyone and continue to disrupt our lives.”
Who is to blame for vaccine inequity?
The lack of eradicated viruses in the world reflects how persistent a problem vaccine inequity has always been. In fact, the WHO has declared just one virus globally eradicated in its history: smallpox, which was officially wiped out in 1980.
Since then, Abdool Karim said redistributing new health technologies from wealthy countries to poorer ones has been incredibly difficult.
“Two decades ago, we had a situation in South Africa where people were dying because antiretroviral treatment was unaffordable,” Abdool Karim said. “With immense effort and commitment from civil society and the South African government we were able to make these treatments affordable, but it has become apparent that those lessons and developments haven’t translated to access to other treatments and health technologies.
“We have unfortunately seen many of the mistakes and prioritization of profits happen again during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to ensure that we create sustainable systems to address health inequity globally.”
According to Abdool Karim, governments as well as private enterprises are to blame for the world’s vaccine equity problems, including with COVID-19 inoculation.
“In many instances, high-income countries oversubscribed to vaccine doses and are in a position to vaccinate their populations many times over,” Abdool Karim said. “Governments shouldn’t have negotiated priority access or exclusive access to such a huge proportion of the doses in exchange for funding the development of vaccines that are essentially a public good. Pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t have allowed such a massive proportion of the supply to be monopolized without making any provision for equitable access.”
Though large institutions such as governments and pharmaceutical companies made choices leading to today’s disparate vaccine distribution, Abdool Karim said it’s important for the public to remember its own power in changing the outcome.
“We need to put pressure on governments to release doses they don’t need so that these doses can go to initiatives like COVAX,” Abdool Karim said, adding that COVID-19 vaccines need to be recognized as a public good rather than a commodity.
“Beyond this, we need immense pressure on pharmaceutical companies to both make doses available and stop treating COVID-19 vaccines and their associated technology as commodities for profit and instead engage in tech transfer and loosening intellectual property protections to ensure countries in low and middle-income contexts can begin manufacturing their own vaccines,” she said.
Vaccine Equity: A global perspective on COVID-19 vaccine distribution
What: A talk with Safura Abdool Karim, a member of the African CDC’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, about the state of global vaccine inequity.
When: Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 11 a.m.
Advance registration is required to attend. You can register here: https://col.st/1qyQE