For months, health experts have warned wealthy countries of the dangers and the immoralities of hoarding the COVID-19 vaccines. Wealthy countries have fully vaccinated about 65% of their populations. In the absence of global vaccination, COVID-19 is not only spreading uninhibited among unprotected people, but is mutating, with new variants emerging and causing waves of panic. Now, as the new Omicron variant has been identified and labeled a “variant of concern,” global vaccine disparity must be at the forefront of the Covid conversation.
Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have cautioned that COVID-19 will continue to mutate and spread so long as substantial populations remained unvaccinated. They have also called for international cooperation between developed and developing countries to ensure widespread sharing of technologies and information on COVID-19 vaccines.
Yet in low-income countries fewer than However, this low vaccination rate is not due to a global shortage of vaccines. According to international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, “high-income countries are hoarding an estimated 870 million excess doses—nearly 500 million in the US alone.”
The distribution of hoarded vaccine doses to developing countries could save nearly one million lives by mid-2022. But these excess doses are not being shared — they are being destroyed instead. Rather than provide the assistance necessary to help curb the spread of Covid in developing countries, the United States has allowed over 15 million doses to go to waste — enough to inoculate nearly the entire population of Zimbabwe (for which the vaccination rate is currently 19%).
Writing for The Guardian, WHO ambassador and former U.K. prime minister Gordon Brown argued:
“This vaccine inequality is the main reason why the WHO is predicting 200 million more cases on top of the 260 million so far. And after 5 million deaths to Covid, another 5 million are thought to be possible in the next year and more … The problem is not now in production (2 billion doses of vaccine are being manufactured every month), but in the unfairness of distribution. The stranglehold exercised by the G20 richest countries is such that they have monopolised 89% of vaccines, and even now, 71% of future deliveries are scheduled for them. As a result, the global vaccine distribution agency, Covax, has been able to secure only two-thirds of the 2bn vaccines promised to poorer countries.”
This vaccine hoarding will not only hurt poorer countries. As the virus spreads and evolves through unvaccinated populations, new strains could mutate to be deadly to fully vaccinated people in the richest countries of the world.
Wealthy nations have stockpiled more vaccines than their populations are willing to consume. It is the ethical responsibility of these countries not to put profits ahead of global health. Rather than employing illogical travel bans on countries struggling with high case rates and new variants, it is imperative that vaccine patents are waived, and a more concerted effort is undertaken by the world’s most powerful countries to share vaccines and prevent further spread of the virus.
During an interview with BBC World News, Dr. Ayoade Alakija, co-chairperson of the Africa Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance had this to say:
“Let us follow the science. Let us not follow politics. Let us share the know-how. Let us allow African countries and others to produce their own vaccines so that we do not get to an Omega variant which we cannot absolutely control.”