Vaccine Inequity: The Unfolding Conflict for Scarce Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a deep social structural divide, not only between rich and poor countries but also within the countries themselves.

The only recipe to get rid of the disease, the vaccines, are emerging as a scarce resource, as poor countries strive to get their hands on them with little success.

This is raising calls for vaccine equity amid the declining interest in vaccine hubs and developed countries in granting COVID-19 patent waivers.

Despite the introduction of new and even more dangerous variants, the delay in COVID patent waivers is a disaster recipe which global leaders are brewing these days.

The situation is not concerning at the international level only. Even within the states of the US, vaccine equity is an issue.

How is vaccine equity a concerning issue both at the international and national level? Let’s see.

No one is safe until everyone is safe. So if countries fail to promote vaccine equity it can bring more variants in the market anytime soon.
No one is safe until everyone is safe. So if countries fail to promote vaccine equity it can bring more variants in the market anytime soon.

Vaccine Equity: The Fight for a Scare Resource:

Almost 26 percent of the global population has received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. The number may seem like great progress, with nearly 30 million doses given each day.

However, only about one1 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of vaccine. This gap between the global numbers and the low-income countries‘ numbers depicts a miserable state of affairs, where many countries are starving for inoculations. 

Canada, Italy, and Spain have fully inoculated more than 50 percent of their population. This is one extreme. On the other extreme lie countries like Afghanistan and Nigeria, where fully vaccinated people amount for 0.56 and 0.68 percent, respectively. 

The misery does not end here.

Consider the following chart to gauge the pervasiveness of vaccine inequity, for instance.



Vaccine Doses Administered per 100 people
UAE 166
United Kingdom 121
Canada 121
USA 101
India 30
Pakistan 10
Kenya 3
Zambia 2
Congo <1
Madagascar <1

The number of administrated doses per 100 people may be above 100 because, in most of the vaccines, two doses are required for complete vaccination.

Currently, Johnson & Johnson and Cansino vaccines are single doses, but all of the remaining ones require two doses. So, in the majority of cases, a single person needs two doses for complete immunity, resulting in the number being greater than 100 in the cases of UAE, UK, Canada, and the USA.

The downward trend shown in the table is suggesting the scarcity of the resource in the low-income countries.

The situation is worst in Africa, where no country in the continent has administered more than 15 doses of vaccinations per 100 people except Morocco, which stands at 57 doses right now.

While in some cases, the inefficiency of COVID-skeptic governments, like in Tanzania, is responsible for this disaster; in other countries, the lack of vaccine availability is unfolding.

Despite continuous efforts of vaccine diplomacy and vaccine tourism, the COVAX is unable to vaccinate a majority of the global population.

All of this stimulates demand for patent waivers; however, the privileged countries have shown little interest in it.

For instance, the European Union (EU) rejected South Africa’s and India’s plea for a vaccine patent waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

This is the practical example of Karl Marx’s conflict theory, which suggested the occupation of scarce resources in times of trouble.

African countries are vulnerable in terms of vaccine availability while the western nations enjoy the scarce resource
African countries are vulnerable in terms of vaccine availability while the western nations enjoy the scarce resource

Vaccine Equity Within the USA: An Issue Requiring Immediate Attention

Vaccine equity is not a problem at the international level only. Within the United States, the data shows that Black Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are not vaccinated as per their hospitalization rates. 

In some states, this trend has seen a significant decline, although only recently. For instance, Minnesota is leading the national efforts of eliminating racial vaccine gaps in the US.

Blacks and Hispanics percentage of the total vaccinations are increasing, signifying an encouraging trend towards neutralizing the racial gap.

This increasing pace is important considering the disproportionate rate with which Blacks were hospitalized during the pandemic.


Final Thoughts

This issue of vaccine equity is so severe that even if all the western population is inoculated, the lack of vaccinations in the low-income countries will allow the virus to mutate itself even further.

This will give rise to more variants like the Delta variant of COVID, which will disturb the high-income countries once again. 

No country can afford to remove the restrictions completely until the whole of the world is vaccinated. International travel will remain restricted, tourism will be curbed further, and immigration will continue diffusing the new variants in already vaccinated countries.

If the low-income countries are given the opportunity of vaccine development, it will be a win-win situation for everyone.

Vaccine apartheid was the expected phenomenon, and it seems that it is unfolding these days.

President Biden has already reiterated his support for the patent waiver, but he needs to push his G7 allies to follow suit.

Only then will every nation have equal access to the vaccine. The profits of pharmaceutical companies may nosedive, but the global suffering will end.

What’s your Reaction?