The race to stop the spread of COVID-19 is on, but fears of vaccine shortages have set off international diplomatic rows while bilateral deals are struck to shore-up national supplies, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) says developing countries will be the ultimate losers.
Just 25 doses of the vaccine had been administered in one of lowest-income countries in January, according to the WHO. That’s compared to 39 million doses administered in around 49 higher-income countries.
While the WHO introduced the global COVAX project — a vaccine pooling and distribution program to ensure equitable access across all countries — wealthier states rushed to secure their own vaccine supplies directly from pharmaceutical manufacturers through advance bilateral deals and are now administering jabs as developing countries continue to wait.
Division between wealthy countries has also widened. Last week in response to a stall in vaccine distribution, the EU introduced tighter export rules on vaccines produced inside the bloc. The ‘vaccine export transparency mechanism’ ensures that any vaccine exporting company in the EU first submits its plans to national authorities. The measure also gives the body the power to bloc shipments of the vaccine to non-EU countries. Reports say the EU and the UK are now clashing over vaccine supplies amid concerns a drug-maker may have diverted supplies meant for Europe to the UK, despite deals made in advance.
The WHO has continually warned against vaccine nationalism, saying that it will prolong the pandemic and endanger lives. Vaccine nationalism is when a country prioritises access to the medication for its own citizens above other countries. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres calls the behaviour self-defeating saying, “none of us are safe, until all of us are safe.” The WHO also makes an economic argument for more equitable distribution of vaccines, arguing that the global economy will not fully recover until all countries are sufficiently protected from the virus.
Global data tracking shows that the United States is home to the highest number of people vaccinated. At the beginning of February 2021, 32 million had been inoculated. China comes second with around 31 million people, then Israel, with nearly five million people. Currently, Israel has the world’s highest COVID-19 vaccination rate per capita, followed by the United Arab Emirates, and then the Seychelles.