Western Vaccine Nationalism Risks Prolonging the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Ben Askew | Wednesday 3rd March 2021

Unequal access to healthcare has long been a contentious issue in international politics. According to anti-poverty charity OXFAM, an estimated 90% of people in 67 low-income countries will not be vaccinated against the coronavirus this year due to Western vaccine hoarding. Experts say that failing to vaccinate less developed countries risks prolonging the pandemic.

Western nations have vaccine supplies that far exceed demand. The UK’s 407 million doses are more than enough to inoculate the entire population and those living in crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories. Similarly, The EU has bought over 1.6 billion doses, despite only having a population of 375 million. On the other side of the Atlantic, Canada has secured 188 million doses for its adult population of 32 million.

There is a somewhat reasonable excuse for these mass vaccine procurements: uncertainty concerning the efficacy of vaccines when the respective nations purchased them. However, now that these nations know that they have enough effective vaccine doses, they should donate the surplus to developing economies.

Experts warn that unless poorer countries vaccinate their populations against the coronavirus, the virus will continue to spread, increasing the likelihood of vaccine-resistant mutations emerging. “No one country can feel safe until every country has taken precautions to vaccinate its population,” says World Trade Organisation Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Failing to inoculate less developed nations is wrong and leaves the world open to the threat of vaccine-resistant mutations, but it could also cost the global economy trillions of dollars over the next decade. RAND Europe, a non-profit research organisation, estimates that the cost of allowing COVID-19 to continue circulating will be as high as $1.2 trillion per year, risking the stagnation of the global economy for the foreseeable future.

However, all is not lost. So far, 156 nations, nearly two-thirds of the global population, have joined The WHO COVAX programme, aiming to ensure equitable access to vaccines. Through the initiative, participating countries have guaranteed access to vaccines and the financial support to inject them into their populations’ arms. By the end of 2021, the WHO aims to deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the programme. So far, The EU has committed $1.2 billion to the fund, and US President Joe Biden has also pledged to provide over $4 billion.

Vaccine nationalism must not become a game of chess amongst the developed world. The COVID-19 pandemic has so far claimed 2.4 million lives globally, and unless wealthy nations take continued steps to address the far-reaching inequalities in vaccine supply, the world will continue to live with this disease and its consequences well into the future.

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