Written By: Constanza Carabiaso
It was a Sunday afternoon when my phone rang, I picked it up eagerly at the notice of my grandma’s call, anticipation streaming through my veins at the news that her second dose of the COVID vaccine will be given to her later in the week. “One less thing to be anxious about”, I thought to myself. Yet, I was met with disappointment when I received another call from her, later that week, after going to the vaccination center. She told me that they had run out of vaccines, and that she was unable to get a second dose. The worst part was that she wasn’t sure when she’d be able to receive a second dose, or how the efficacy of the vaccine will sustain without it. You can only imagine my dismay when I opened Tik Tok, and found out that teenagers were already being vaccinated in other parts of the world, and that in some cases, there are leftover vaccines being thrown out. This event stimulated a newfound curiosity towards the vaccine gap in between high income and lower income countries.
In 2020, rich countries made Bilateral deals, direct deals with companies that produce COVID vaccines. This means that they not only funded research, but were also able to purchase the vaccines ahead of time, to the point where, according to VOX, “16% of the global population holds more than half of doses from the best developers.” Many of these wealthy countries made high-risk investments early on the vaccine development process to secure doses for their country and avoid the risk of vaccines they’ve invested in not working or getting past regulators, investing in various options and suppliers. By the time other countries could afford to invest in vaccines, which happened further along the approval process, many countries had secured deals ahead of them.
There have been initiatives started to give access to vaccines to poorer countries, the most prominent one being COVAX. It works by having countries buy and access multiple vaccines at once by paying to COVAX, instead of funding them through the companies directly, in order to expand vaccine development. COVAX also buys vaccines for lower-income countries through donations and charities. The whole idea was to create a fairer vaccine distribution between countries with different income levels , but the chances that many wealthier countries would participate in the initiative are low since it was created after many of them had already struck bilateral deals with vaccine companies.
“We’re all in this together”, was the original mindset at the start of the pandemic, where the appearance of a shared struggle among countries was given. However, as entire health systems are collapsing in some countries, while in other countries we see a return to some semblance of their pre-pandemic lives, the question still hangs in there, when will it be everyone else’s turn?
VOX, director. How Rich Countries Are Making the Pandemic Last Longer. YouTube, Vox, 28 Apr. 2021, youtu.be/2ty2J0s2W0c.