After the 2nd World War, the world at large made unprecedented strides towards eradicating poverty, reducing childhood mortality, increasing life expectancy, and expanding literacy. No event since then has encountered such a profound global impact on human lives as COVID-19.
The pandemic has triggered a public health and economic crisis on an unprecedented scale and has exacerbated systemic problems such as poverty, inequality, and despair. The virus that has killed more than a 1.7million people has exposed vast inequities between countries, as fragile health systems and smaller economies were hit harder.
While many poor nations may not be able to vaccinate at most even 20 percent of their population in 2021, some of the world’s richest countries have reserved enough doses to immunize their own multiple times over.
Rays of hope
1st ray of Hope sprang when the Pfizer/ BioNtech Corona vaccine results in stage three trial informed of more than 90 % efficacy, flowed by Moderna and AstraZeneca. Having a vaccine is one part of the equation; the others are its availability at scale, its safe transportation, and its ultimate adequate utilization.
The race to access vaccine is on at an unprecedented scale where the rich economies rushing to hoard the bulk of it. While many poor nations may not be able to vaccinate at most even 20 percent of their population in 2021, some of the world’s richest countries have reserved enough doses to immunize their own multiple times over.
According to a New York Times analysis, if all the doses they have claimed are delivered, the European Union would inoculate its residents twice, Britain and the United States could do so four times over, and Canada six times over. The outlook for most of the developing world is dire. Because of manufacturing limits, it could take until 2024 for many low-income countries to fully immunize their population.
This mimics the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu pandemic” when poor nations were left with limited vaccine doses due to the unequal purchasing power and monopoly of vaccines by wealthier ones. There is compelling evidence, which informs that an equitable supply of vaccines pays off more dividends than monopolizing it by the world few.
32% lives at risk because of first world country privilege
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation argues that if the 80% efficacious COVID-19 vaccines were distributed equitably based on the population size of each country, 61% of deaths could be prevented. This is compared with 33% of deaths averted if high-income countries could stockpile vaccines.
Another study from “RAND Europe”, suggests that a globally coordinated approach to distributing COVID-19 vaccines, in which access is equitable, would be the most cost-effective. The modeling study suggests that investing US$ 25 billion by the wealthier countries for vaccine procure and delivery to the world’s poorest countries would yield a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4.8 to 1; for every US$ 1 spent, wealthier countries would get back about US$ 4.80 in terms of the avoided economic costs.
The virus that has killed more than a 1.7million people has exposed vast inequities between countries, as fragile health systems and smaller economies were hit harder.
Without enlightened investment – a fraction of the US$ 8.1–15.8 trillion estimated global cost of the pandemic – the global economy would potentially lose about US$ 153 billion every year until a vaccine becomes universally available. This is the estimated sum of the health cost and loss to the economy when restrictions are imposed.
One of the key learnings from the COVID pandemic is that governments, businesses, or civil-society groups cannot meet systemic global challenges alone. We need to break down the isolation process that keeps these domains separate and start building institutional platforms for pro-poor public-private cooperation.
‘Vaccine for all’ requires effective diplomacy
Above the ethical lines, failing to protect people in the developing world will leave a reservoir of coronavirus that could spark new outbreaks at any time. To cope up with such an unprecedented crisis, the world needs to pursue an “Empathic & Ethical global Reset” through the equity lens. This mega reset needs champions with global influences who have the courage to change the pillars of the global eco-system and realize the vision of ‘vaccine for all’.
Pakistani PM Imran Khan was the 1st leader to raise a voice for equitable access to vaccines for all regardless of the ability to pay and wavering off the debt of the poor countries. This, however, needs to be taken further for making the world a better place than the one of 2020. Prime Minister Khan has the essential ingredients and space to lead it from the front and engage influentials like Mr. Bill Gates, HE. Mohammad bin Salman, Mr. Tony Blair, Mr. Barak Obama, and some others to form a “high-level group” for steering the efforts.
This high-level group could prevail to convene a UN General assembly session on “vaccine for all” thereby enacting resolution for judicious supply and effective utilization of the vaccine.
For the COVID-19 vaccine to reach simultaneously the poor nations, a maximum vaccine limit in the 1st phase (20 % of its total population) be stipulated through a UN resolution. An exceptional 10 % extra quota may be allowed to procure subject to proportionate supply in a donation for the world’s poor. This would strike the required balance in the vaccine supply and demand while subsidizing the poor.
The high-level group could also influence the World Economic Forum, EU, World Bank, G20, and Shanghai Cooperation for sustained investment in public health and making the COVAX facility an effective body. Persuading WTO for waiving off intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccine be a big gain.
This pandemic offers an opportunity for the world to unite, show solidarity, and charter a new Magna Carta “All lives deserve equal access to health & vaccine regardless of the race, religion, purchase power and color” and this calls for “Vaccine diplomacy” to take roots in real terms for a global impact.
In addition to the impact on the current pandemic, this would create an opportunity to establish a live global framework that could strengthen “global health systems” thus protecting humanity in the face of future pandemics.
“No one is safe until everyone is safe”.
Dr. Nadeem Jan (Tamgha I Imtiaz) is the most decorated health & polio expert, who has an illustrious career with UN, USAID, World Bank, Gates Foundation and Governments of Pakistan, Somalia,Kenya,South Sudan, Afghanistan and Philippines. He can be reached at Nadeemjan77@hotmail.com.