Source: Macau Photo Agency
As G7 leaders hold virtual talks to discuss how to share COVID-19 vaccines more equitably with poorer countries, recent reports indicate that countries including the EU, UK, United States, Australia, Canada, and Japan are on track to stockpile 1.2 billion excess doses.
“No country actually has a stockpile at the moment,” Palladium Chief Medical Officer Dr. Farley Cleghorn explained in an interview with Euronews. “These are commitments from companies to supply to countries who’ve made advance market purchases.” And it makes sense for countries like the U.S., which has had the greatest impact from COVID-19 in terms of death and hospitalisation, to want to protect their populations now.
“But we should keep in mind that the fight here is against the virus. It is not between countries.”
For this reason, some suggest that once a population is 20 per cent vaccinated, doses should begin to flow to poorer nations.
This is a difficult sell to those who would rather see their own population receiving vaccines first, but the challenge with a purely national approach comes down to mutations. Even if a country is 100 per cent vaccinated, mutations in the virus are inevitable in places where the pandemic is allowed to continue unmitigated, risking new strains from which vaccinated countries may no longer be protected.
“In the case of a global pandemic, no one is protected unless most of the world is protected,” said Cleghorn. “No one wants to talk about stopping travel, continuing to lock down, and using other blunt measures to control the spread of the virus even after the vaccine is rolled out. Getting back to normality is going to take much longer unless we take a world view.”
Cleghorn asserts that now is the time for governments to assure their populations that they’re being looked after, even if things may not appear to be going smoothly. This is on the heels of an unprecedented winter storm that has decimated infrastructure across the southern United States and delayed shipments of a reported 6 million COVID-19 vaccines.
“We’ve seen the rollout of vaccines characterised by snafus of all different kinds,” he describes, “from production failures and inadequate planning for rollout, to addressing vaccine hesitancy. All of these problems add up to a sense of anxiety that we aren’t doing well enough for others.”
Globally, more than 193 million doses have been administered across 87 countries, but over 100 countries have yet to receive a single dose, and the entire continent of Africa has vaccinated only a minuscule percentage of the population.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned members of the G7 that unequal vaccine distribution poses global risk, noting that the world would be back at square one if some countries went ahead with their vaccination campaigns and left others behind.
“Vaccine equity is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smartest,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General. While lauding commitments from rich countries to fund international efforts, Tedros insists that more needs to be done and faster.
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