A person receives a dose of the Oxford / AstraZeneca coronavirus disease vaccine at the Cacovid Isolation Center, Mainland, Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, in Lagos, Nigeria.
Majority world | Universal Images Group | Getty Images
LONDON – With fears of “vaccine nationalism” becoming reality in 2021, experts have told CNBC why it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that adequate vaccination programs are put in place around the world.
“Low- and middle-income countries have faced the challenge of obtaining vaccines because of the phenomenon of vaccine nationalism. Most developed countries have many vaccines,” said Dr. Faisal Shuaib, CEO of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in Nigeria, told CNBC last month.
While high-income countries bought more than 4.6 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines, low-income countries bought 670 million doses, according to the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.
And while many western economies like the UK and the US are hoping to vaccinate the vast majority of their populations in the coming months, some countries may not be able to do so before 2024, according to the same institution.
“So if we are to eradicate Covid-19 as a global community, it is important that every community has access to these vaccines. The virus knows no borders,” Shuaib said.
The coronavirus is an infectious disease that is easy to spread. The latest variants of the virus are said to be even more contagious than the original strain.
“We are now living in a global village, before you know it, the infection is even spreading to developed countries. So from a scientific point of view it really doesn’t make sense to hold onto vaccines if there is no equity and fairness in spreading them around the world,” said Shuaib.
But the problem of helping low-income countries with vaccine supplies goes beyond that. It is also relevant from an economic and geopolitical point of view.
“The world economy is also interconnected, and even countries like New Zealand or South Korea that have responded fairly effectively to this virus have suffered badly from this pandemic,” said Thomas Bollyky, director of global health programs at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNBC .
“It will continue to do so after this virus spreads across much of the world,” he said.
The IMF originally forecast a 3.4% increase in world production in 2020. But shortly after the pandemic broke out earlier this year, the IMF slashed its forecast to a 3% decline, predicting it would be the worst economic shock since the 1930s.
In more recent calculations, the IMF estimated that global economic activity actually fell by 3.3% in 2020, with renewed waves of infections and further mutations threatening the chances of an immediate recovery in 2021.
“The main weapon we have is vaccines,” IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath told CNBC on Wednesday.
“We are seeing virus mutations and as long as many parts of the world are not vaccinated, you will still see a lot of those mutations, and that is a big problem for the world economy,” she said.
At the same time, the coronavirus crisis has also called for stronger international cooperation.
Organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF developed the Covax initiative in 2020 to help low-income countries gain access to vaccines. However, this has not been enough to ensure equitable access.
“If you have the money to buy, you get more vaccine; if you have factories; if you’ve paid for some research and development; if you block exports (or can ban exports – all of these factors really favor high-income countries, but all of these things taken together led us to the situation where you still have the lion’s share of vaccines (that) in high-income countries, “said Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, said CNBC.
The United States, for example, has laws to vaccinate its population first before sending vaccines overseas. The European Union has also stepped up its policy of restricting exports of vaccines when pharmaceutical companies fail to meet deliveries to the bloc. The UK has not exported any Covid-19 recordings. However, all three regions contributed to Covax’s funding.
“If, in the midst of a global crisis, we are unable to share a vaccine that is in the interests of all nations because it is the fastest way to get the pandemic under control, what are the prospects for working together to prevent it the future?” Pandemics, what are the chances that we will work together on climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, anything that obliges the nations of the world to trust each other and work together to make us all safer, “Bollyky said.
“If we don’t make it through this crisis, we have little hope of doing it in many other areas where we need to see this collaboration,” he said.