Urgent action is needed to redress the imbalance within the world’s COVID-19 vaccine programme or the world’s economy will be paying the cost for decades, global governments have been told.
In a joint statement the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the University of Oxford COVID-19 said vaccine inequity will have a lasting and profound impact on socio-economic recovery in low- and lower-middle income countries without urgent action to boost supply and assure equitable access for every country, including through dose sharing.
It comes with the launch of the Global Dashboard for COVID-19 Vaccine Equity, a joint initiative from UNDP, WHO and the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, which combines the latest information on COVID-19 vaccination with the most recent socio-economic data to illustrate why accelerating vaccine equity is not only critical to saving lives but also to driving a faster and fairer recovery from the pandemic with benefits for all.
The three organisations said an acceleration in scaling up manufacturing and sharing enough vaccine doses with low-income countries could have added $38 billion to their GDP forecast for 2021 if they had similar vaccination rates as high income countries. 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.
“In some low- and middle-income countries, less than 1 per cent of the population is vaccinated – this is contributing to a two-track recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”, said UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner. “It’s time for swift, collective action – this new COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Dashboard will provide Governments, policymakers and international organizations with unique insights to accelerate the global delivery of vaccines and mitigate the devastating socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.”
The statement warned the high price per COVID-19 vaccine dose relative to other vaccines and delivery costs – including for the health workforce surge – could put a huge strain on fragile health systems and undermine routine immunisation and essential health services and could cause alarming spikes in measles, pneumonia and diarrhoea. There is also a clear risk in terms of foregone opportunities for the expansion of other immunization services, for example the safe and effective rollout of HPV vaccines. Lower income countries need timely access to sustainably priced vaccines and timely financial support.
According to the new Dashboard, which builds on data from multiple entities including the IMF, World Bank, UNICEF and Gavi, and analysis on per capita GDP growth rates from the World Economic Outlook, richer countries are projected to vaccinate quicker and recover economically quicker from COVID-19, while poorer countries haven’t even been able to vaccinate their health workers and most at-risk population and may not achieve pre-COVID-19 levels of growth until 2024. Meanwhile, Delta and other variants are driving some countries to reinstate strict public health social measures. This is further worsening the social, economic and health impact, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized people. Vaccine inequity threatens all countries and risks reversing hard won progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Vaccine inequity is the world’s biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation. “Economically, epidemiologically and morally, it is in all countries’ best interest to use the latest available data to make lifesaving vaccines available to all.”
“Closing the vaccine gap is required to put this pandemic behind us. The dashboard can help scale up and accelerate global delivery of vaccines by providing accurate, up-to-date information on not just how many vaccines have been given, but also the policies and mechanisms through which we get them into arms,” said Dr Thomas Hale, Associate Professor of Global Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.
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