Vaccine inequity is undermining a “truly global economic recovery” from Covid-19, according to data released Thursday by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the University of Oxford.
The organizations said vaccine inequity would have a “lasting and profound impact” on the recovery in low and lower-middle income countries unless urgent action is taken to ensure every country had sufficient supplies and adequate access.
“At a time when richer countries have paid trillions in stimulus to prop up flagging economies, now is the moment to ensure vaccine doses are shared quickly, all barriers to increasing vaccine manufacturing are removed and financing support is secured so vaccines are distributed equitably and a truly global economic recovery can take place,” they said in a statement.
If vaccine manufacturing had been increased, enough doses were shared with poorer countries and they had similar vaccination rates to high-income countries, $38 billion could have been added to those nations’$2 2021 GDP forecasts, according to the data, which was compiled under the “Global Dashboard for Covid-19 Vaccine Equity.”
The statement said a high price for vaccines “could put a huge strain on fragile health systems,” affect routine immunizations and essential health services, and cause spikes in diseases like measles, pneumonia and diarrhea.
The Dashboard, which uses data from multiple organizations including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the vaccine alliance Gavi, shows richer countries are projected to vaccinate quicker and recover economically faster.
Meanwhile, poorer countries, some of which haven’t even been able to vaccinate their health workers and most at-risk populations, “may not achieve pre-Covid-19 levels of growth until 2024.”
Health workers arrive with a patient at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital’s COVID-19 facility, in Johannesburg, Monday, June 21, 2021.
As rich countries with high vaccination rates like the US and the UK are beginning to open up, Delta and other coronavirus variants are forcing some countries to reinstate public health measures. Africa is currently facing its worst phase of the pandemic, and in South Africa hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients.
“This is worsening the social, economic and health impact, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized people,” the statement from the UNDP, WHO and University of Oxford said.
In Asia, Indonesia has taken over from India as the new epicenter of the pandemic, with hundreds of deaths a day in a country that has a vaccination rate of less than 6%. In Thailand and Myanmar and across much of the continent, cases and deaths have also surged in recent weeks.
CNN data shows dozens of lower-income countries have administered fewer than 10 vaccine doses per 100 people, including Kenya, Bangladesh and Uganda. Some countries have run out or come close to running out of doses.
The joint call to action from the three organizations comes a day after Pfizer announced an agreement to produce its highly effective vaccine in South Africa, a move that could significantly increase access to vaccines across the continent.
Most poorer nations are currently reliant on the COVAX global vaccine distribution initiative, but it has been plagued by supply issues following the suspension of exports from the Serum Institute of India, which is producing a large number of the doses.
“Vaccine inequity is the world’s biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from Covid-19,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the statement.
“Economically, epidemiologically and morally, it is in all countries’ best interest to use the latest available data to make lifesaving vaccines available to all,” he added.
Radina Gigova reported from Atlanta; Jeevan Ravindran wrote from London.